Andy Neal: Forgotten gem gets bohemian rhapsody

With £1m in the kitty to fund its transformation, Rose Street will soon be Edinburgh’s answer to Carnaby Street, says Andy Neal

The flags will be flying early next month to signal a new lease of life for one of Edinburgh’s best-known thoroughfares. The Heineken Cup quarter-final rugby match at Murrayfield on April 7 – when Edinburgh play host to French giants Toulouse – provides an ideal opportunity to highlight one of Edinburgh’s forgotten gems, Rose Street.

The issue for Rose Street at the moment is that it’s in the shadow of Princes Street and George Street, both of which have a clear identity. The plan for Rose Street is to give it its own personality, which should be something a little bit quirky. When we were doing our consultation, we identified different types of streets in other cities to give us clues, and the one most people liked was Carnaby Street in London’s West End. It’s in very close proximity to Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, but has its own quirky character, and that’s the vision for Rose Street.

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But the time has come for Rose Street to enjoy more of the limelight, with ambitious plans drawn up by my own organisation, Essential Edinburgh, and the city council. The proposals follow a report prepared for us by The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, which was set up by Prince Charles in 1998 to help influence design and planning of new communities and existing towns and cities.

It recommended the city looked to transform Rose Street into a “bohemian” destination, with physical improvements allied to a series of events designed to bring dead spaces back to life.

So, on the weekend of the big rugby encounter, the street will be festooned in colourful new bunting to provide a brighter face to visiting supporters and locals alike, and live traditional music will be performed along the street.

Long term, the aim is to transform Rose Street into an exciting and eclectic mix of pavement cafes, restaurants, bars and shops with regular, good quality street entertainment. Add to that mix some new welcome signage, street art, floral displays, well-designed street furniture and lighting.

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I have said before that our aim should be to create a thoroughfare that rivals the likes of London’s Carnaby Street – a place that is tempting to visit.

Existing businesses are going to be encouraged to spill out on to the city centre’s pedestrianised street, with buskers encouraged to perform in designated areas. Events such as beer and food festivals are being explored.

The street has much to offer – with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver the latest to see the attractions with an Italian restaurant as part of the revamp of the Assembly Rooms.

The foundation’s report for Essential Edinburgh said it was “time for a clear-out” of Rose Street, with poor traffic management and enforcement of a traffic ban the biggest single issue that its talks with businesses and other groups threw up.

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So clearly other priorities for improving the street will revolve around traffic management, and work remains to be done in this regard. While the street is primarily pedestrianised in terms of the road surface, lots of small delivery vans use the street. This is confusing for pedestrians and causes damage to the road surface, buildings and street furniture.

The plans will see the larger part of £1 million invested in Rose Street – with the funding coming from Essential Edinburgh, the city council and retailer Primark.

• Andy Neal is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh


• Rose Street was included in the original plan for Edinburgh’s New Town, flanked by George Street to the north and Princes Street to the south.

• Rose Street was named after the emblem of England, with Thistle Street (which runs parallel) named after Scotland’s national emblem.

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• Rose Street is decorated with eight different mosaic roses.

• Rose Street is nicknamed “The Amber Mile” because of the number of pubs and clubs that line it – 17 in all.

• The hungry are well catered for, with 12 restaurants already established and a further ten cafes and takeaways.

• There are more than 40 shops along Rose Street and, in addition, entrances to four department stores.

• There are also two health clubs, eight offices, six banks and building societies and three hotels.