Covid Edinburgh: businesses urge return to city centre two years on from start of lockdown
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There is evidence that people are returning and business leaders say trade is picking up.
The centre of the Capital is significantly busier than it was at height of lockdown, but still quiet compared to pre-pandemic levels.
And when the Evening News went out to take these pictures – in the middle of the day on Wednesday – we found some of the streets which before the pandemic would have been bustling with office workers and tourists were virtually empty.
Instead of crowded pavements and a constant chatter in the air, it seemed more like a quiet Sunday morning.
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the company which runs the city-centre Business Improvement District, said: “In general, town is busy at weekends, but I don't think we're seeing the return to busy-ness during the week at the moment. We're not seeing workers all back in the city centre, which has been the big issue.”
"It has been busy-ish in the evenings – hospitality has been doing ok.
“During the day, numbers are starting to come back – there's no doubt footfall is returning – but we still desperately need the office workers back in.”
He thinks working patterns may never return fully to the way they were before the pandemic.
"Most people now are working a hybrid system, so I don't think we expect to see 100 per cent of what it used to be – I think that's just not going to happen.
“But what we would like to see is more people coming back into the office more often.
"I would be surprised if everyone who used to work full-time in an office comes back to do that – I think a lot of people will work maybe two, three or four days a week in the office rather than five.
“The city centre will adapt to that, but it means there won't be as many people in the centre every day and that affects coffee shops, sandwich shops, people going to Marks & Spencer in their lunch break to buy a pair of socks, it affects business breakfasts, business lunches and so on.
“So we're keen that on the days they are in the office they spend a bit of time shopping, eating and drinking.”
And he recognises continuing high rates of Covid at the moment are still affecting people’s behaviour and making them more cautious.
“We expect more people to come back as the pandemic eases.”
The other missing element from the city centre economy is the huge numbers of tourists Edinburgh used to count on.
Mr Smith said: “We don't yet have the tourists coming back in the numbers pre-pandemic, but I'm optimistic that when conditions improve the tourists will come back.”
And he pointed out other factors could be at play too, like the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine.
But he said: “I'm hugely optimistic about the long term – but in the short term we're still feeling some pain.”