COUNCIL chiefs will focus on “four or five” key developments as part of an economic strategy to maintain Edinburgh’s competitive position with other cities around the world.
An elite priority list will see a dozen sites with “transformational potential” – ranging from the St James Quarter to the Old Royal High School – whittled down to a handful so all efforts can be concentrated on ensuring they are delivered.
That was the key message Edinburgh City Council leader Andrew Burns was keen to impress on a breakfast meeting of influential business leaders yesterday.
He told delegates that Edinburgh was an economic success story, but added the city needed to do more to communicate a positive message.
And while his colleague Frank Ross’s pinpointing of 12 key development sites across the city is considered helpful, Councillor Burns insists what is required is the “need to highlight no more than four or five key infrastructure projects and set ourselves a target for delivering on them”.
Hugh Rutherford, chair of the Edinburgh Business Forum, welcomed the streamlining stance. He said: “The city centre does need attention and vision and I’m pleased to see this is now being addressed by the council.”
The conference, to mark the first year of the city’s five-year economic strategy, was swamped with high profile speakers.
Joe Montgomery, chief executive of the Urban Land Institute, praised the city’s success but urged it to do more to “leverage in” more investment.
He said the council could assemble financial packages for inward investors and offer a single point of contact to sort out planning and other issues facing developers.
And he said he believes council-owned land could play an important role too.
He said: “What we are seeing around the UK is a cuteness about the way councils use their land holdings.”
Local authorities were increasingly prepared to give land to developers and get a cash return at a later date.
He added: “Everyone is interested in how you can de-risk investment and for developers it’s often the land price, so if the council can throw in the land and negotiate some kind of profit share downstream – five or eight years later – it can make sure there is development now when the economy needs jobs.”
He said it could also work with land owned by other public bodies. “The role of the public sector as a land-holder is often under-rated.”
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said the 600 businesses in the city centre had given them a clear mission – to bring people back into the city centre following the tram works.
He said: “We need to make sure the city presents itself in the best possible light in the way of cleanliness and so on and we need to get locals, who are going to be the lifeblood of the shops, back into the centre.”
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar told the meeting he was encouraged by the positive attitude in the city, saying: “I have never known a more optimistic period.”
The dozen potential sites
Haymarket: Prime commercial development, including hotel, leisure, retail and office space.
Dewar Place: A master plan has been prepared for this Exchange District site.
Caltongate: Consented mixed-use development with office, residential, hotel, retail and leisure. Revised scheme currently under consideration.
Shrubhill: Two sites with differing ownership and consents.
Old Royal High School: Current options include arts hotel subject to necessary consents.
Donaldson’s College: Potential for residential or hotel use.
India Buildings: Multiple ownership and listed status. Options include an integrated development featuring a hotel.
King’s Stables Road: Prime location for mixed-use development.
Quartermile: Largely developed mixed-use development comprising hotel, residential, retail, office and leisure. Further residential units and office space still to be delivered, with potential for a boutique hotel.
Fountainbridge: Three sites in separate ownership with approved master plan. Site partially developed with residential and student residences and planning permission for a mixed-use development to the south. A revised master plan is due in 2014.
St James Quarter: Consent granted in principle for £850m redevelopment comprising retail, leisure, hotel, offices and residential.
3-8 St Andrew Square: Conservation area site with mixed-use development potential including offices.