Gordon Henderson: Business focus after tramworks

Shandwick Place will be a very different area post-trams
Shandwick Place will be a very different area post-trams
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When the tram works began in 2007 we thought Credit Crunch was a breakfast cereal, Vladimir Romanov was in charge at Hearts, and the SNP had just won the Scottish election.

I would have been astonished if someone had told me that I’d need to wait until 2014 before actually being able to go anywhere on an Edinburgh tram. As bad – fatal in some cases – as the works have been for businesses in Haymarket, the West End and Leith Walk, their completion alone will not be a panacea.

A lot has changed since the steel fencing went up. We’ve had a major economic shock which, combined with changes in our shopping habits, has had a major impact on many of our town centres and high streets.

Shandwick Place will look very 
different when the fences come down, supermarkets have arrived and there are still many empty units. Businesses on William Street next door will be thankful that their customers can find them again after years of being annexed by the works.

The renovation of Haymarket station is due for completion around the same time as the trams start taking passengers so this will become a hugely important area of the city, with opportunities for small businesses to take advantage of.

Something the tram works have taught us is that areas such as these need to be looked at as town centres in their own right and develop initiatives tailored to their unique 
circumstances.

To ensure a bright post-tram future for the businesses, communities and the economies they support in areas such as Haymarket, Gorgie, West End and Leith Walk, we need to pay close attention to some of the work already being done.

The recently published Scottish Government town centres review called for mixed-use town centres that offer more than just retail but residential and business use. It highlighted the importance of public sector jobs staying in town centres to support local economies. Edinburgh’s town centres should reflect how modern, busy consumers live, work and relax as well as looking to attract visitors.

This is the key to business success in all of Edinburgh’s town centres, not large grandiose plans purely focused on the city centre.

The Federation of Small Businesses’ survey work this week told us that small business confidence in Scotland is at its highest level for three years. If we want to see this confidence repeated in Edinburgh a period of stability is needed after the trams start to run so that businesses can make plans without the threat of further disruption. No more transport initiatives and road closures please, at least not until we’ve got used to this new system.

• Gordon Henderson is from the Federation of Small Businesses