Graham Birse: Is Debenhams snub logical move?

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Tensions in retail have been evident for some time now, whether it is between city centre and out-of-town, or face to face and online shopping.

There is a difficult mix for retailers, and therefore for the city council, in making decisions around what they should approve and how they should present the retail offer for Capital shoppers.

What we have to remember in the case of Edinburgh is that it is surrounded by other local authorities that don’t have the same loyalty to the city centre in Edinburgh that the city council has.

So while there is logic in the council’s decision in this case, it may be that in the future Debenhams, or some other large retailer, talk to Midlothian or West Lothian councils instead.

The difficulty Edinburgh has is that there is a very easily reachable and free parking retail offer out around the bypass and beyond, and reconciling that with a city centre offer always has been, and will be, a difficult balance.

However, the city centre has been enjoying a return of increased footfall numbers and I think so long as the city centre presents itself as a unique shopping experience which blends high quality retail with the visitor attractions, the nightlife, the night-time economy, the restaurants, the bars, the things to see and do in Edinburgh city centre, then it will be successful because that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

In terms of this decision, you can understand the logic behind it from the point of view of the council and of city centre retail. I think the difficulty is that it might not, in the long term, make a substantial difference, provided neighbouring local authorities continue to encourage and nourish their alternative retail offer as you would expect them to.

It is up to the various agencies involved – the city council, Marketing Edinburgh and partner organisation that are resident in the city centre – to continue to develop Edinburgh’s unique facets and features and that is that blend of retail and tourism, hospitality and leisure that are unique.

The long-awaited tram project and especially the works have been going on in the city centre for the last five years are beginning to disappear and you can see how attractive the city centre actually is.

• Graham Birse is director of Edinburgh Institute at Edinburgh Napier University and the former managing director of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.