the scale of the changes being proposed for what is now known as the St James Quarter will only really become clear when building work gets under way.
Everyone will notice when the eyesore 1960s office block comes down and there will be great anticipation as the new shopping mall starts to take shape. Which new brands might be lured to Scotland by the prospect of moving into the UK’s biggest new retail development, right in the heart of the Capital? What will the new five-star hotel end up looking like? And what about the new cinema, bars and restaurant?
All this will transform the way we shop and spend time in the city centre. The new quarter, coupled with what Edinburgh already has to offer, will attract far more shoppers from across Scotland and the north of England. Most will head to the east end.
What is far less appreciated and potentially as significant is the impact this will have on the surrounding areas. Plans are already under way to redevelop West Register Street in anticipation.
The way in which the development is designed means all the extra visitors won’t spill straight in and out of the mall like visitors at, for instance, Ocean Terminal. New paths through the site and better road layouts will naturally encourage people to move from the Omni Centre into the St James Quarter, and vice versa. The same is true of Princes Street, St Andrew Square and Leith Walk. All should benefit hugely.
There will inevitably be robust debate over the design of individual buildings and the materials used. That is only right on a development of this scale and on such an important and sensitive site. We are going to have to live with the results for a long time so we had better get them right.
But this is undoubtedly the single most significant development in the city for at least a decade and probably for decades. The details are still to be decided but the overall benefits it will bring are clear.