Time to smarten up Princes Street - Kevin Buckle
Roddy Smith, the CEO of Essential Edinburgh, was certainly very helpful while agents for the empty shops were generally less so, often claiming they expected properties to be let very soon when clearly that was not going to be the case.
It is by no means an easy task as the shops all have different owners and therefore any agreements have to be done on an individual basis. Other cities have benefitted from the council owning properties which makes the process a lot simpler and while in Edinburgh the council does indeed own many properties they tend to be in the Old Town and not the ones that need to be addressed.
I’ve heard that soon it will be even easier for food outlets to gain a change of use so some of the empty shops on Princes Street may finally come back to life, but without doubt there is still going to be a good number of empty shops in the near future at least. I suspect that whereas landlords may take a view on offering a reduced rent to bring in a tenant while the Scottish Government insists on maintaining such high business rates the situation is not going to change.
There was talk of all sorts of temporary uses for these empty shops mostly to do with the arts, but the truth of the matter is the only people taking advantage of these empty premises are tartan tat and American candy shops.
There has recently been news of some resurgence of fortunes for Oxford Street, especially after HMV moved back, and a few other retailers also made plans to open but one swallow, or indeed several swallows, do not make a summer and overall the picture is still fairly grim. Even if plans to clamp down on American candy shops are a success that will only lead to more empty stores.
There is still time to make Edinburgh’s premier street look a bit more presentable in time for the summer if action is taken now. I have heard that there has been some success in Dundee on these matters and surely it can’t be beyond those concerned to pull together and bring in the right people to mitigate the current depressing sight visitors in particular are faced with when walking along Princes Street.
Arts organisations can of course make use of their exemption from business rates to take over empty shops, but when this does happen it is mostly seasonal, and certainly while there have been one or two examples on George Street it is not something I would expect to see on Princes Street.
I’m told not all the agents for empty shops were so negative and it will only take a couple of successes to bring more of the doubters on board. In fact the decision is really one for the owners and hopefully they will see that improving the look of Princes Street will be a help not a hindrance to gaining a tenant.