A ‘business czar’ could help to reverse decline of businesses in city centre - Kevin Buckle

It is understandable that hotel groups looking to take over a building – especially one on Princes Street – claim they will keep the ground floor for retail as otherwise high streets would soon become a row of hotel lobbies and nobody thinks that will be a good look.
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Planning of this kind generally seems to be successful yet nobody is asking the question what retailers are lined up to move in, given the number of empty shops already available.

My own involvement with the King’s Stables Road council site being sold was actually based on this need for “interesting retail” to be in place and then became a wider remit to advise on the arts and retail planned for the site.

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Edinburgh Council very much knew what they wanted, the problems of attracting people down King’s Stables Road and the pitfalls that lay ahead with potential developers trying to circumvent retail and arts stipulations in their wish to just build a hotel and some flats.

Hotel developers are eyeing Princes Street - but what role will retail play in their plans?Hotel developers are eyeing Princes Street - but what role will retail play in their plans?
Hotel developers are eyeing Princes Street - but what role will retail play in their plans?

As has been well documented both elsewhere and in this column the council completely failed to achieve any of its arts and retail objectives by simply taking the most money from a developer clearly not interested in their wishes and the end result can be seen today.

Never one to learn from their mistakes the council, having failed so badly in an important site like King’s Stables Road, is now potentially allowing conversions to hotels that will simply have empty shops below them whether that be on Princes Street or Haymarket.

While it would be hard to have anything legally binding with a retailer before planning is even agreed, the idea that plans would be looked on more favourably if more thought was given to the retail space would certainly help.

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The obvious cop-out seen regularly is a coffee shop but certainly in the States it is not unusual for important buildings housing hotels or offices to have artisan shops at ground level almost as a cool decoration for the building, with all the money being made from the space above.

I’m not sure how that works over there with business rates as certainly on Princes Street a generous rent would be of no use at all to the kind of businesses developers would like to attract if the space still involved the horrendous costs inflicted by the rates.

I’m not a great believer in “business czars” but in this case somebody at Edinburgh Council does need to be put in place to focus solely on how the council can reverse the decline of viable businesses in the city centre. While this is a UK and indeed a worldwide problem I would say that Edinburgh is far better placed than most to come up with a solution.

Councillors are not voted for by businesses but residents and only the experienced Jo Mowat from the city centre councillors appears to represent those who live and work in the city centre whether they have a vote or not.

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I’ve had a lot of people in this week saying they were visiting Edinburgh for some early Christmas shopping with the general verdict it had been OK but could be better. Certainly something to build on. Nobody had been impressed by the Christmas Market!​​​​​​​​​​​​​​