Victoria Street is considered to be one of the jewels in Edinburgh’s crown, with its quirky selection of independent businesses set within several centuries of attractive architecture.
It is home to a vibrant atmosphere and a great experience for both visitors and locals, and is constantly developing – so it is great to welcome the Warburton Gallery and Artisan Roast to the India buildings that have long remained vacant.
However, should we feel the same about the plans for the top section of Old St John’s Church, burnt and abandoned under the tenancy of Khushi’s restaurants? Wetherspoons, in its major expansion throughout the city, is set to become the new occupier of this building. While they have a good reputation for caring for old buildings and running well managed premises, does this area need more licensed premises?
Edinburgh has more licensed premises than any other city in Scotland and the nearby Grassmarket area has a reputation as a result of their concentration there. The area has restrictions in place to avoid overprovision of alcohol licences, and yet applications continue to appear and be approved.
This area holds claim to a gem rarely seen on Scotland’s modern- day high streets – a concentration of independent retailers and makers. Work is being done to promote and preserve these small businesses and create a balanced experience of retail and food and drink for all to enjoy. Will another high-volume licensed premises tip this balance for good?
Many of the existing pubs and bars within the area are independently and responsibly run, and none of the existing alcohol licensees are likely to welcome this competition. However, within this environment they may close ranks and say nothing.
But what of the rest of us? Although Councillor Eric Milligan chooses to ignore the evidence from the police and the Scottish health service, and will no doubt wave his green flag at this development, should we do the same?
The Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District has a policy across a five-year period to encourage a wider variety of visitors to the area. At its board meeting, concern was raised about another alcohol-selling business in the area and the impact it could have.
Victoria Street and the surrounding area has a congregation of residents, small business owners, locals and visitors, all of whom enjoy its colour, energy and simple charm. Another alcohol licence, and one that can supply to a high volume of revellers at any one time, could dramatically change the face and character of this fine street. Once changed, that charm is near impossible to regain, and once approved, the provision of an alcohol licence is unlikely to be revoked.
Now is not the time to say nothing. I, for one, will oppose the granting of an alcohol licence for this premises. Will you do the same?
Anthony Buxton is manager of the Quaker Meeting House in Victoria Terrace and a local resident