West End recovery starts after tram works

Michael Apter believes the tram works suppressed development in the West End in recent years. Picture: Gareth Easton
Michael Apter believes the tram works suppressed development in the West End in recent years. Picture: Gareth Easton
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THE number of empty West End shops has more than halved since last year as the district bounces back from tram works and economic recession.

Vacancy rates plunged from 14 per cent in July 2013 to six per cent last month, with empty shop units snapped up amid rapidly recovering consumer confidence.

Beleaguered traders and business leaders have welcomed the trend after a “perfect storm” of tram works, road closures and the credit crunch led to firms deserting some of the West End’s best-known streets.

Gordon Henderson, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) development manager for the East of Scotland, described the new figures as “very positive”.

He said: “All the indicators show the economy is on the up and our own FSB figures show that members are feeling confident. That’s because a huge amount of work has been done in the West End.

“There was a lot of investment in promoting the West End – the West End Village campaign, for example – which kept the area alive during the tram works, and the hope was that after the tram works the area would pick up very quickly because of that.

“If all that hard work hadn’t been done, I think we would have been starting off from a far lower base.

“But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We should be looking at the town centres of Edinburgh and seeing where the vacancies are and what we can do to encourage people into these areas.”

Fresh evidence of green shoots in the West End echoes a wider trend, with vacancy rates across the Capital dropping from 8.17 per cent to 5.67 per cent, less than half the Scottish average of 14.5 per cent.

Michael Apter, director of Paper Tiger and Studio One in Stafford Street, said the district was firmly in recovery mode but stressed there were still issues to resolve.

“We’ve all been waiting for the tram works to finish and I think that suppressed a lot of development over the last three to four years,” he said.

“We’re seeing lots of units being let and there are national chains and local businesses taking leases.

“But it’s still difficult for residents and business owners to drive into the West End and get access to their own premises.

“Traders are hoping to see some of the priorities change for traffic access and we’re talking to the council about where parking bays are.”

City chiefs said the figures were the fruit of investment in Edinburgh’s town centres during the economic downturn.

Councillor Frank Ross, economy leader, said: “The improvement at the West End is great news for the area, which has been given a huge boost with trams now stopping in Shandwick Place.

“Additionally, just along the road, the Haymarket area is undergoing massive redevelopment following on from the station’s complete facelift.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com