Plan for ‘Covent Garden-style’ atmosphere in Grassmarket

Footfall is plummeting in the Grassmarket. Picture: Cate Gillon
Footfall is plummeting in the Grassmarket. Picture: Cate Gillon
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Ambitious plans have been launched to reverse plummeting footfall in the Grassmarket and create a “Covent Garden-style” atmosphere of outdoor markets and entertainment.

The Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District (BID) – which represents a string of local businesses – has secured a public entertainment licence to manage regular small-scale events in an attempt to boost pedestrian numbers.

The proposals come on the back of “catastrophic” footfall figures that saw the Grassmarket suffer its worst ever year-on-year fall. A drop of 27.2 per cent was recorded in March compared to the same period last year, with almost double the number of pedestrians visiting Leith Walk over the festive period.

Georgia Artus, project manager for the Grassmarket BID, said the licence would be used to boost visitor numbers.

She said: “The Grassmarket as a space is a huge asset to the city, but is currently under-­utilised and we’ve been working on ideas which we are delighted to now be able to launch.

“This licence will bring regular events, as well as a historic tour of the area and larger scale events such as the Jazz Festival and Film in the City.

“We are delighted to have been given permission to bring new life and regular footfall to the area.”

Last month the owner of Grassmarket shop Helios Fountain, Jos Bastiaensen, said he was forced to close the business after revealing he faced “likely bankruptcy” if he kept it open.Mr Bastiaensen lashed out at the lack of action over the area’s falling footfall and insisted the key to future success lay in regular events bringing in crowds.

Figures for March show Edinburgh’s footfall fell by 6.8 per cent compared with the same period last year – with the busiest site in the city, Princes Street, clocking a rise of 0.2 per cent and almost a million visitors.

Kevin Buckle, owner of former Grassmarket store Avalanche Records, welcomed the new proposals but warned they could be a “drop in the ocean” when it comes to turning the area’s fortunes around, describing the latest footfall figures as “catastrophic”.

Councillor Frank Ross, the city’s economy leader, said council chiefs were “aware of a decline in footfall for the Grassmarket” and had been supporting the BID in its new project.

He said: “This is great news. The events will bring greater vibrancy to the area and attract more visitors all year round.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com