A huge underground car park would be built beneath the new St James Quarter as part of the £850 million regeneration masterplan – but environmental campaigners have vowed to fight to block it.
With 1800 bays, the new multi-level facility would have space for three times as many cars as the current St James Centre car parks, in a move designed to conveniently accommodate the vast increase in shoppers expected to be drawn to the new shopping and leisure district.
But Colin Howden, director of Transform Scotland, described the idea as “crazy”, saying it was at odds with a long-standing city policy to promote public transport.
Investors behind the scheme, trumpeted as the catalyst to put the Capital “back on the retail map” after years of decline, say the planned parking provision has been reduced from around 2400 bays and is “considered the absolute minimum needed in order to deliver a successful and sustainable development”. Many of the bays, they said, were equipped with electric charging points.
However, Mr Howden said Edinburgh’s congestion and pollution problems would be exacerbated by welcoming more cars into the city centre.
Three city roads – St John’s Road, Queensferry Road and Salamander Street – have recorded danger pollution levels.
Mr Howden said: “The St James Quarter is at the hub of all of our transport networks in the city – Waverley Station, St Andrew Square and a major tram strop – and it’s also at the centre of a city with severe congestion and air pollution problems. Looking at trebling car parking spaces at the site is frankly crazy. We should be looking at measures to deter cars entering the core of the city which is the guidance the council has been receiving from urban planners for decades.”
Many groups consulted about the dramatic new development – which could open in 2019 – supported additional off-street parking which they believed was in short supply and would help attract more visitors to the city centre as a whole. They insisted increased parking was a “crucial aspect” of the development and “pivotal to its success”.
Councillor Nigel Bagshaw, transport spokesman for the Edinburgh Greens, welcomed the replacement of the “eyesore” St James Centre, but criticised the trebling of parking spaces.
He said: “We’ll need to look closely at the plans to see if they deliver the real change that Edinburgh needs.
“If reports car-parking spaces are trebling to 1800 are borne out, then that will simply add to the city centre’s problems of congestion and air pollution.
“The new centre could be the heart of a city centre where the pedestrian and cyclist is king. But only if the developers are bold enough to reject 1960s planning ideas.”
Developer and site owner TIAA Henderson Real Estate said the quota of parking bays was appropriate for a development of this scale.
Martin Perry, director of development at TIAA, said: “Providing easily accessible, quality car parking is a key part of our plans for the St James redevelopment. Our previous proposals for the car park were scaled down after extensive debate, discussion and engagement with Edinburgh council when our planning application was submitted and determined.
“It was accepted by officers and the planning committee that a development of this scale requires appropriate car parking facilities to best meet the needs of visitors. The expected net 1625 public car parking spaces, which will be fully equipped for charging electric cars, was and is considered the absolute minimum needed in order to deliver a successful and sustainable development.”
Of the 1800 parking spaces planned, around 272 will be allocated to a five-star hotel, an apart-hotel and offices – leaving more than 1500 for shoppers. Each space is forecast to yield around £1200 per year, providing a total potential return of more than £2 million a year from the car park – assuming an unlikely 100 per cent occupancy.
The current St James Centre, which will be demolished as part of the plans, has just 567 parking spots.
It is thought the huge subterranean complex planned for the St James Quarter will lie over two or three levels.
Traders and business groups have welcomed the planned boost to off-street parking in the city, given research points to a huge shortage of city centre parking.
Josh Miller, chairman of the George Street Association, has long campaigned for expanding parking space in the city centre and was a key advocate of shelved plans for an underground car park on George Street. He argued shoppers aim to park as close to their retail destination as possible and the St James Quarter addition would be an asset.
He said: “I think it’s good that there is an increase of provision for parking within these plans. People do like to use their car and, as the city has grown and evolved, has there really been any change in provision for that? The fact we see queues at John Lewis car park every weekend and not Greenside emphasises people want parking close to where they are going to shop.”
But he warned against neglecting other areas of the city following the announcement.
He said: “We have to remember the city centre is not just the East End.”