A PUB giant has unveiled a £1.5 million plan to convert a central bingo hall into a superpub – fuelling serious concerns about antisocial behaviour and the impact on smaller licensed premises.
JD Wetherspoon has bought the Empire Bingo venue on Nicolson Street for an undisclosed sum and submitted a planning application to transform the former La Scala cinema into a two-storey pub.
The bar would cover an area of more than 4000 sq ft – about half the size of city centre super-pub Revolution and easily dwarfing its smaller neighbouring competitors.
If the plans are approved, the low-cost chain – which has already provoked controversy by converting the Lothian Road Picturehouse into a super-pub – has pledged to create at least 50 jobs.
But local councillor Steve Burgess today raised concerns that the pub would attract crowds of drinkers, compounding antisocial problems already rife in the Nicolson Street area.
The Green member for Southside-Newington said: “This area of the Southside is already a well-known hotspot for antisocial behaviour, particularly street drinking in Nicolson Square immediately opposite the Empire bingo.
“I’m seriously concerned about proposals to introduce a large establishment likely to be selling low-cost alcohol into this environment. There are already at least four more conventional pubs within a few hundred yards that serve the area well.”
Labour Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore said she was also concerned by the plans, which could disturb residents.
She said: “We already have a large number of licensed premises at various addresses. It doesn’t really fit with what we are really wanting for the area. There are lots of late-night take-outs, but it’s still a residential area.
“Nicolson Street has a lot of shops on the ground floor level, but a lot of people live there; it’s their home.”
And local independent councillor Jim Orr said: “Given Scotland’s continuing difficult relationship with alcohol it would be preferable to have the site used for something other than a bar.”
Grant McNeil, who runs the popular Greenmantle Pub on Nicolson Street, said he was shocked to hear about the proposals. He said: “The area is oversubscribed with pubs massively already. Wetherspoon already have the Picture House on Lothian Road – it’s like they are trying to squeeze the life out of the city.
“I think a lot of people will be opposed to this. But they are a corporate monster.”
The building operated as the La Scala cinema from the early 1900s, having previously been used as a theatre, before being converted to a bingo hall in the 1970s. Despite the local concerns, Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon insisted the proposals were ideal for the Southside, just minutes from the University of Edinburgh’s George Square campus. He said the capacity of the proposed pub was not yet known.
He said: “We have enjoyed great success with our existing pubs in Edinburgh and Leith and believe this site, in the heart of Edinburgh, is perfect for a Wetherspoon pub.
“We are looking to invest approximately £1.5 million on the redevelopment and create 50-plus jobs.
“Edinburgh is a thriving city and we are confident that a new Wetherspoon pub will be a good addition to its social scene.”
Planning officers are expected to make a decision by delegated authority on the application by July 11.