£60m revamp as East End to be ‘Edinburgh’s Covent Garden’

An artist's impression of the proposed development in South St Andrew Street and West Register Street. Picture: comp
An artist's impression of the proposed development in South St Andrew Street and West Register Street. Picture: comp
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MAJOR plans to transform a neglected maze of back streets into a bustling hive of high-class shops, restaurants and businesses have been given the go-ahead.

The £60 million revamp – which is considered key to the wider redevelopment of the East End – will see the warren of lanes around West Register Street turned into what is being billed as the Capital’s answer to London’s Covent Garden.

Developer Chris Stewart Group insisted its proposals would act as a “gateway” to the upcoming £850m redevelopment of the St James Centre, and promised to replicate the success it enjoyed with its multi-award-winning Advocate’s Close regeneration in the Old Town.

Blueprints pushed through the council’s planning committee yesterday centre on the restoration of the neoclassical, A-listed former RBS headquarters in St Andrew Square to house a restaurant, cafe, bar and 54 posh flats – with a gym in the basement.

Chris Stewart said he was “delighted” the scheme, dubbed The Registers, had been given the green light.

He said: “It is an area in the city centre in desperate need of regeneration.

“The site is currently made up of a warren of neglected lanes and empty buildings falling into disrepair and we have provided robust evidence that our plans will create nearly 750 jobs and an annual economic boost to the city of over £70m as well as delivering 
substantial ‘heritage gain’. We have approached this project with the same sense of custodianship, design excellence and long-term sustainability as we did for Advocate’s Close and our vision is to open up a thriving area that will appeal to both local residents and visitors to the city.”

It is understood the development will bring high-quality retail outlets to the long-
forgotten area, with access links to the revamped St James Quarter providing an easy route through to the luxury “ribbon” hotel at its centre – and The Balmoral also close at hand.

But heritage groups have criticised proposals to demolish an 1850s category B-listed Victorian tenement and modernist 1960s buildings as part of the plans, as well as the developer’s decision to retain only the facade of a B-listed Venetian Gothic structure.

Historic Scotland and Edinburgh World Heritage both lodged objections to the project.

A report by council officials argued the scheme’s “economic benefits outweigh the loss of the listed building and its impact on the historic environment”.

Work on the site is set to begin early in the new year, with the entire project scheduled for completion towards the end of 2017 – the same year construction starts on St James.

The revamp will see more than 60,000sq ft of “high-quality Grade A office accommodation” replace buildings along part of West Register Street.

Gordon Spowage, deputy manager of the Café Royal – one of two Victorian pubs in the area alongside the Guildford Arms – hailed the boost to footfall that the redevelopment could bring.

He said: “We encourage the regeneration of the area. It will only add to the footfall that’s going past our front door. I think it will be a good thing, really, if there’s going to be more bars and restaurants.”