PLANNERS are to rewrite the rules for Princes Street in a bid to attract cafes and restaurants to the Capital’s premier shopping thoroughfare – but experts have warned high rents could prove an obstacle.
Council chiefs believe encouraging food outlets will help revitalise the street, particularly at the west end, as retail businesses gravitate to the east because of Princes Mall, Multrees Walk and the planned redevelopment of the St James Centre.
Already, plans for a ground-floor bank and first-floor restaurant have been given the go-ahead for the former Gap store site at the west end of the thoroughfare.
Now the city’s planning committee is to tear up the current shops-only policy, but set a limit of no more than three food outlets clustered together.
However, the consultation on the change of policy brought warnings that Princes Street’ rents – among the highest in Scotland – would be too much for many cafes and restaurants.
Comprehensive Design Architects (CDA), based in Moray Place, told the council: “Many leisure/food operators are unable to afford current rents on Princes Street.”
The point was echoed by property consultants GVA James Barr.
Planning convener Ian Perry said the proposed maximum size of a food outlet unit had been raised from 300 to 500 square metres to help make them more viable.
He said: “We believe the new guidelines will make it commercially practical to open a restaurant.”
The shops-only rule is also to be lifted from Shandwick Place, Castle Street and Queensferry Street.
The policy change coincides with the launch of the new £1 million two-year “This is Edinburgh” marketing campaign designed to bring people back to the city centre following completion of the tramworks.
Richard Slipper, of property consultants GVA James Barr, said city centres had to be more vibrant to counter the trend towards online shopping. He said: “Just as we have seen on George Street a change from a staid business environment – dominated by attractive edifices which were given over very much to internalised banking functions – to what is now exciting retail, along with restaurants and bars.
“The challenge has been strongly met in George Street and the question, is can we now look at Princes Street? The task is to persuade people to come back because it’s more interesting than pushing a mouse around a pad and clicking on your retail wish list.”