John McLellan: Frasers’ fate was sealed long before sale to Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley blamed 'greedy' landlords for condemning the Frasers store at the West End to closure. Picture: Getty
Mike Ashley blamed 'greedy' landlords for condemning the Frasers store at the West End to closure. Picture: Getty
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I’m sure I wasn’t alone on Sunday in briefly wondering if Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley was referring to Jenner’s when he announced that the Edinburgh House of Fraser store was one of three he was closing because of “greedy” landlords.

Must be Jenner’s, I thought, because the closure of the other store at the West End has been known for months. In fact owner Parabola’s plan to turn it into offices was confirmed in July, a month before Ashley bought the troubled chain store business.

Leaving aside any suggestion it’s rich of him to accuse another company of greed, Parabola took a longer-term view that West End retailing faces an uncertain future as shoppers gravitate towards the new St James Centre and the East End where Jenner’s could actually benefit. In other words, Parabola might have done Ashley a favour.

READ MORE: House of Fraser to close three stores including one in Edinburgh

The question of what becomes of the West End of Princes Street was partly answered last year when the rules for what kind of businesses are permitted were updated to allow for changes of use from retail to restaurants and bars. But the guidance stipulates that permission will only be granted for units up to 500 square metres and where outdoor tables and chairs can safely be accommodated, which pretty much rules out premises near corners.

So far new system is untested, but with high street shopping under ever increasing pressure from online retailers, and the new St James Centre due to open in under two years, a challenge is inevitable.

Let’s tax See You Jimmy hats instead

Some rumblings amongst the ranks of supporters for a tourist tax about the “divide and conquer” approach taken by the council to the hospitality industry, with a new consultation with businesses seemingly designed to cleave off members from what are seen as intransigent industry leaders.

READ MORE: Edinburgh tourist tax plans to be submitted to Holyrood

One observation is that lobbying has either been insufficient or ineffective in softening resistance and that consultation should be more about reassurance than cajoling a reluctant sector.

Now if the levy was on See You Jimmy hats and shops blaring out tinny renditions of Highland Cathedral we’d all sign up for that.

The G-Day landings

As the city edges closer to G-Day, the start of the new Garden Tax brown bin service next Friday, paying households will be trying to locate indelible markers for the bin stickers, except those who have stumped up their £25 but have received letters telling them they are not registered. Mind you, with nine different “standard” letters going out something was bound to go astray.

The best laid plans o’ mice and men aft gang in the recycling bin.