City seeks support to renew Edinburgh BID deal

Essential Edinburgh launched their BID initiative ten years ago. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Essential Edinburgh launched their BID initiative ten years ago. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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IT has cleared gum off the streets, introduced taxi marshals, organised crowd-pulling events, helped cut crime and attracted more people to the city centre.

Essential Edinburgh was established ten years ago to run the Capital’s first Business Improvement District (BID), covering the area around Princes Street, Rose Street, George Street and the St James Centre.

Among its projects have been the This is Edinburgh campaign which ran for three years and brought a £50m economic boost; the Edinburgh Farmers’ Market, which generated £4.5m for the city economy in a single year; the Street of Light in George Street, which sold 300,000 tickets; turning St Andrew Square into an outdoor cinema in summer and an ice rink in winter; and providing the Christmas lights in George Street and Rose Street.

Now it is seeking a renewal of its mandate for another five years, to carry on with its work of promoting the city centre, supporting businesses large and small and drawing people to the area.

And it is proposing new initiatives, including a major marketing campaign focused on the city centre and a new drive to help homeless people on the Capital’s streets.

Chief executive Roddy Smith said: “We’re going into our third term so we’ve established a lot of things and a lot of things we do people expect us to do, so we’re going to continue with those and add a few more.”

Essential Edinburgh has its own seven-strong Clean Team, which runs a fast-response service.

“If any of the businesses have a cleaning issue they need done quickly they see to it,” said Mr Smith.

“And they also do additional trips around the city centre, cleaning up rubbish.

Some of our members think that’s the best thing we do. “On the back of that, the cleanliness of the city centre as measured by Keep Scotland Beautiful has gone up every year for the last five years.”

The Clean Team has also removed 14,550 sq metres of gum from pavements – that’s the equivalent of two Tynecastle football grounds.

And plans for the next five years include investing more money in the Clean Team, probably buying more grime-busting machinery.

There will also be a new five-year marketing campaign to attract more people to the area.

Mr Smith said the promotional This is Edinburgh campaign – which helped bring people back into the heart of the Capital after the tram works – had been aimed at boosting the city centre as a whole.

“What we’re going to do now is a marketing campaign solely based on our BID area – Princes Street, George Street, Rose Street and St James.”

An agency has already been appointed to lead the £1.2m campaign, which will be targeted at people who live in or near the Capital.

“This is not based on tourists,” said Mr Smith. “It’s about attracting people from Edinburgh, the Lothians, Fife and the central belt, people within a couple of hours’ travel.

“Marketing Edinburgh and others do a great job in attracting people to Edinburgh, but our key thing is to make sure people who live in and near the city come into the city centre.

“You’ve got the Gyle, Straiton and Fort Kinnaird on the outskirts and a lot of people are obviously shopping online now, so it’s about making sure people come into the city centre and have a day of activities - not just shopping or eating and drinking or going to the cinema or theatre or the museums, but all of that.

“We’re really keen to get people back into the city centre and spend some time here.”

Essential Edinburgh has already established links with homelessness charity Edinburgh Cyrenians and now plans to expand that.

Mr Smith said: “We don’t have the skills in terms of supporting homeless people, what we’re doing is supporting the professionals – the police, the third sector and the council – in tackling the problem.

But he stressed: “The issue for us is not to move the homeless and begging community out of the city centre somewhere else; the issue for everyone is to support people who live in those communities to be able to stop doing it.

“It’s not about moving the issue, it’s about helping solve the issue.”

Essential Edinburgh said it would also continue its work to make the city centre safer.

Mr Smith said: “We invest money in things like transport marshals for taxi ranks, we do a lot with the police to deter shoplifting, we put additional CCTV cameras in the city – and over the five years, crime was down over seven per cent in the city centre.”

And in the last year, the BID has even had its own police officer. “We have a partnership with Police Scotland where we have our own policeman whose only focus in on the city centre and that has been a huge success.

“His main job is co-ordination in the city centre – going into retailers, bars and restaurants, doing crime prevention, co-ordinating activity and working with the homelessness and begging charities in the city. He is a key point of contact for our members.”

Mr Smith said the next five years would also see Essential Edinburgh taking a stronger hand in the management of the Festivals in the city centre and ensuring the “highest quality events” take place in the BID area.

But he said there would be no major Fringe events in St Andrew Square in the summer in line with last year’s decision to avoid the grass being churned up. “We have the ice rink at Christmas and the other 10 months of the year it will continue to be used for events but on smaller scale, so it doesn’t damage the infrastructure.

“Last year, a lot of people liked the fact they could sit in St Andrew Square and just enjoy the peace and quiet.”

Essential Edinburgh works closely with the council on the long-running efforts to redesign George Street to improve the space and make it more pedestrian friendly.

“The council is leading on that,” said Mr Smith.

“But we’re chairing the steering group and making sure all the businesses on George Street are consulted about it.

“That’s been going for a couple of years now and certainly over next two or three years I very much hope that moves forward quickly.”

And of course the massive St James Quarter redevelopment is going to have a big effect on businesses in the BID area, not least those at the other end of Princes Street.

Mr Smith said: “St James is going to be so big – 80 retailers, lots of bars and restaurants, a cinema and residential – it will change the city centre.

“You’re going to have a really high quality, very large indoor shopping centre. And you can’t look at it in isolation – there’s also the West Register development, the concert hall behind RBS and all the new restaurants in St Andrew Square.

“The East End has become a very vibrant area and if you fast forward two or three years it will become even more vibrant.

“The challenge is for the West End to adapt to what is happening in the East.

“It has to be a case of the city centre getting busier – we have to make sure we have enough activity in the West End – whether that means food and beverage or entertainment or high quality retail – so people will not only go to St James but will also walk down to the West End to see what’s on offer there.”

He said he hoped more activity in Castle Street could help. “It is a pedestrianised street, but is very rarely used. We’d be keen to do more there.”

Mr Smith said the Street of Light had a “monumental” impact on footfall in the West End. “We need to make sure whole of Princes Street is vibrant,” he said.

“Princes Street is still the shopping destination in Edinburgh, it’s the iconic street, As we head to the opening of St James, it’s vital that businesses, ourselves and the council all have a plan in place to support it.”