The West End of the city centre should be one of Edinburgh’s great attractions.
It is home to some of the city’s best independent shops and fashion boutiques, in William Street and Stafford Street in particular. There are some great places to grab something to eat or drink, whether it is an afternoon coffee or glass of wine, or a full blow-out special occasion dinner. The unspoilt Georgian streets would make the perfect backdrop for a period drama. It should be one of those hidden gems, loved by locals and known only to the more discerning visitors, an oasis of calm where shoppers can browse at quirky and unique outlets, away from the hustle and bustle of Princes Street and George Street.
The problem is that it is just a little too calm. There simply aren’t enough visitors to allow a large number of these kind of specialist stores and cafe-bars to flourish.
The area needs to do a lot more. Yes, there are things it can do to make the neighbourhood a slightly more pleasant place to while away the hours, some greenery and extra seating would help, as well as special events to pique the interest of potential visitors.
But first and foremost it needs to shout a lot louder about what it does have to offer. The competition is fierce. It is not just the East End – although it certainly needs a plan for when the new St James Quarter opens – but out-of-town shopping centres and the attractions of Glasgow that it has to rival. The organisers of the planned Business Improvement District will have to paint a compelling picture to local businesses that they know how to lead this fightback.
The West End has taken a real battering in recent years. The roadworks associated with the trams turned large parts of the neighbourhood into a virtual no-go zone, just when businesses across the country were dealing with the fall-out of the financial crash. It is high time that it started to fight back.