George Street furniture to be axed in summer

Covered al fresco areas in George Street are not popular during the winter. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Covered al fresco areas in George Street are not popular during the winter. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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MARQUEES and decking designed to bring a year-round cafe culture to George Street are to be scrapped after city bosses admitted they had been a failure.

The installations – introduced in July to enhance the street’s offering – have faced criticism for their appearance amid claims the decking has been “hugely unpopular” because it created a barrier for pedestrians.

It had been hoped the Italian-crafted street marquees and bespoke decking would create an al fresco dining scene allowing bars and restaurants to spill out on to the pavement.

George Street firms collectively invested around £200,000 on the street furniture but have endured a winter of discontent with the majority of diners shunning the chilly venues.

City official Iain MacPhail, charged with managing the city centre, said the outdoor furnishings would be axed next August because they offered “no additional atmosphere to the street”.

“The decking and marquees have failed on all the measures we were testing,” Mr MacPhail told a public meeting.

He said they had been ruled out for future projects because their impact made the street – which has been part-closed to traffic – “actually feel more hemmed in than before”.

Large, movable umbrellas – or Jumbrellas – as seen at Rutland Place have been mooted as alternatives while a model based on the Grassmarket’s outdoor table and chairs had always been the preferred long-term option, he said.

He said the trial had been useful and insisted that with the arrival of the St James Quarter in 2020 it was necessary to ensure George Street remained competitive to avoid it “sleepwalk[ing] into decline”.

Andy Neal, chair of Essential Edinburgh which represents city centre businesses, said it was “premature” to say the project had failed.

He said there were ongoing talks to determine whether the structures would be dismantled for the rest of the winter but expected them to be fully functioning come spring.

“I’d be the first to admit it’s not working as well as we would have liked throughout the winter months but it’s a 12-month test and the whole idea was to see what would work at different times of the year,” he said.

“We want to complete the test and run through spring, summer and then re-evaluate and make the necessary changes.”

Tony Craig, who runs Brown’s bar and restaurant, said he had stopped serving drinks outside as it was “pointless” but would reopen the outdoor marquees in spring.

He added: “During the winter, they probably are just in the way but during summer it definitely brings people here.”

Councillor Adam McVey, vice convener of transport, said: “In terms of the marquees and decking, we need to acknowledge that these have perhaps been less successful than other elements of the trial but we will continue to engage with businesses, Essential Edinburgh and other stakeholders to find the best way of animating George Street.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com