Gordon Henderson: You control the high street

St John's Road in Corstorphine. Picture: Neil Hanna
St John's Road in Corstorphine. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Edinburgh council’s decision to relax planning rules in Gorgie/Dalry and Corstorphine is a good one that will encourage a wider variety of businesses to locate in these key Edinburgh town centres.

The future of our high streets is quite rightly a hot topic at the moment, and something the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has been pushing for action on in support of our members.

Specifically we have been urging for a relaxation of planning rules to attract a wider, non-retail mix of businesses into town centres – so it’s great that we’ve been heard. These new businesses will attract customers and create footfall for the retailers still based there.

The council’s guidance note on the planning changes and the consultation responses make a lot of important points. Residents have an important say in how far these planning relaxations should go in regard to the retail/non-retail mix so it is right they have been consulted. Many responses have called for very specific types of retailer to be attracted to their town centres, and the council correctly pointed it is not its role to decide on specific shop types. The market must always be the decider of this.

One consultee said that they supported flexibility in the planning rules as long as the new businesses add value to the area. Spot on. Many responses point out that more hot food take-aways in Dalry won’t add value. I liked the idea of a small cinema like the Dominion in Corstorphine but again, it isn’t up to the council to open one but they can make it a possibility.

Welcome as this relaxation on planning restriction is, Edinburgh has eight defined town centres so why act in only two of them? And why a blanket refusal to consider change of use to residential?

Surely in some instances attracting families in to live in town centres could be good for the community and for trade? Also, there is a blanket ban on light industrial use, at first understandable due to noise but Edinburgh’s light industry businesses are moving out of the city and taking their jobs with them.

Consultees in both areas reported a lack of parking and that this report simply passes responsibility on to another council employee to have a conversation about it. People want to drive cars. Town centre improvement reports such as the Portas Review have made it clear that car parking is directly linked to the success of businesses and this is why the big malls work, they have loads of parking.

The RAC Foundation’s figures show that Edinburgh council takes in a third of all parking revenue in Scotland (£22.8 million) but spends only 39 per cent of that on car parking, so there’s plenty of money there to provide the proper off-street parking required to help Edinburgh’s town centres thrive.

There’s a clear anti-car policy in the city centre but available parking will make a big difference to Gorgie, Dalry, Corstorphine, Stockbridge, and Morningside to business owners.

• Gordon Henderson is senior development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses.