Kevin Buckle: Harry Potter and the High Street of Doom

The city centre transformation online consultation has now finished and one thing that was interesting was that it referenced the Royal Mile Action Plan.

Saturday, 17th November 2018, 6:00 am
Who decides when there are too many Harry Potter shops being opened?

What made this interesting is that I’m sure that when the city centre transformation plan is revealed it will be found to contain recommendations that were in 2013’s Royal Mile Action Plan but never implemented.

There were several examples but one I pointed out on Twitter was the fact that Edinburgh Council, because of the number of properties they own on the Mile, could influence the retail diversity many thought needed.

To quote from the report “The other area where the council could have a real influence is with the large number of properties we have on the Royal Mile, so that we do not necessarily accept the highest bid for a site, and instead encourage more artisan businesses and local craft-makers to try to improve the quality of what is on sale, rather than cheap kilts, which you can get for less than £50.”

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Tourists consult their own maps in Princes Street. Picture: Scott Taylor

What of course is extremely disappointing is that not only has this not happened but things have got a lot worse. This is not just about tartan tat either. With visitors always needing to eat those serving food will now nearly always be able to pay more for any premises than a non-food outlet and there needs to be a balance.

Even in St Mary’s Street, a designated shopping street and supposedly protected, each new empty premises becomes a restaurant, cafe or takeaway and what was a nice balance between food and non-food outlets has been lost.

My regular coffee shop on the Royal Mile has just closed and I’m told it is to become a “Harry Potter” shop. Therein lies just one of the problems for the council. If the council does wish to have a more diverse retail offering who decides when there are too many Harry Potter shops?

Approaching from another angle who will decide what retailers should be welcomed to the High Street. It is easy to see why the council has just not done anything but the result of that inactivity is now there for all to see.

The least controversial thing in all this should be the cost of taking a lower rent, which is a drop in the ocean by council standards, but even there those whose job it is to get the highest rent want very clear instruction so that their financial targets are not affected.

Another thing mentioned was the removal of A-boards which rightly or wrongly has now happened a good five years later – and delay on that sort of policy can’t be blamed on finances.

What is not clear is why so many of the actions recommended in these reports based on public consultations are not implemented. I joked on Twitter that maybe there should be a consultation about why so many of the recommendations in the reports these consultations generate are not actioned.

Of course there are many reports that could be looked at again to see what should actually have been done and not just talked about. We don’t need to wait until 2050 – there are many sensible ideas already agreed and ready to go in these reports.

I’ve come across such inaction myself of course. That the Grassmarket was pedestrianised and then abandoned is well documented but then the council rubbed it in by promising the rejuvenation of King’s Stables Road only to take the money for their site and run.

When the City Centre Transformation report is produced the one thing everybody I have spoken to is agreed on is that rather than looking to 2050 we should be seeing just how quickly ideas can be implemented.

Some of the big ideas will of course take time but there is much that could be achieved quickly.

Another thing folk agree on is that while it is unclear exactly who is to blame in all this the buck needs to stop somewhere.

Has Wayfinding gone off track?

Another project I came across is the Wayfinding project. “The aim of the project is to encourage walking and the exploration of the City for residents and visitors.”

I’ve heard this mentioned from time to time but never been quite sure if it has happened or not and to be honest I’m still not sure. The dedicated page says “The project is at the design stage and the map of Edinburgh will be completed by the end of September 2017.”

Certainly it is a good idea to help direct people about the city but I fear there has been lots of workshops, design and consulting with key partners and stakeholders but not so much on the having a few leaflets printed!

The project promises “printed maps, on-street information (including bus shelters and tram stops) as well as online to make getting around the city even easier, to encourage walking and to help people to explore the city”.

I did manage to find one mention which was of a phase three survey in April this year.

Thankfully “there has been a number of workshops with stakeholders” and their next stage is to design some “on-street totems and welcome signage”. They are also going to create a city centre PDF map.

Slow progress but at least on course for 2050.

Coffee bean satisfaction guaranteed

Not mentioning Edinburgh’s Christmas market and attractions is a bit like trying to not mention Brexit but I have managed to limit myself to just the one comment.

At their presentation to the council this week Underbelly produced the usual wonderful report showing 98 per cent satisfaction.

The best the Christmas experience could be rated as was “very good” so it is a shame there wasn’t an option for “excellent”. “Good” which is included in the satisfaction rating is hardly a ringing endorsement and surely Edinburgh should be aiming for excellence. They were however prepared to concede that things hadn’t always been perfect and in 2014 there had been too many stalls selling coffee beans. So that’s something!