The debate around what should happen with the Royal Bank of Scotland’s premises at Dundas Street and Fettes Row raises some fundamental questions for the city planners and councillors to consider.
At the outset let us make it clear that no decisions have been taken on exactly what should happen to the current office buildings, and that there are various options around how much office space should remain. It should also be remembered that the bank has its own challenges, and it obviously makes sense for it to raise as much money as it can for these premises which it no longer needs, which is why it will sell to a developer.
Edinburgh house prices are high, the New Town particularly carries a premium, so it would be easy to see why that would be attractive to developers. And of course there is great demand for housing in Edinburgh.
But there is a bit of chicken-and-egg here, because there is only that demand because it is fuelled by employment. Arguably people need places of work first before they start looking for a home.
And there is already great demand for offices in Edinburgh. In fact the council’s city strategy and economy department says: “There is a growing pressure on office space in Edinburgh due to a combination of steady demand, limited new development and the loss of older space”.
There are a lot of houses in the New Town, which have been converted for office use many years ago, which are now being reconverted to residential developments, adding to the pressure for office space.
At the Dundas Street site there is also the question of what would happen to the retailers in the area who only exist to service the needs of the office workers. It would seem sensible for planners to set a minimum amount of office space which would be required on the site to ensure a decent balance.