Kevin Buckle: The clock is ticking for the Old Town BID

The Old Town BID needs to find a leader like Roddy Smith if it is to be successful
The Old Town BID needs to find a leader like Roddy Smith if it is to be successful
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I know I mentioned the Old Town Business Improvement District last week but I make no apologies for saying more now. The BID needs a new project manager and the application deadline has just ended. Worryingly, the 12-month contract is only for 25 hours a week.

This is a monumental task needing to bring together businesses of all sizes from the many small independents to large hotels and attractions. Add into that the local residents groups that need to be consulted, even though this is a business organisation, and it is clear it will take some effort to bring all these groups together.

Bikes at City Chambers ready for Edinburgh's long-awaited cycle hire scheme. Picture: SWNS

Bikes at City Chambers ready for Edinburgh's long-awaited cycle hire scheme. Picture: SWNS

And why do residents need consulted on business matters? Well as the Grassmarket BID found out, no matter how good an idea there might be for an area if the residents complain they will often, and in the case of the Grassmarket always, get their way. Businesses always feel at a disadvantage with the council as residents vote for councillors and businesses don’t, despite often paying large sums in rates and quite often rent given how many properties the council own.

I could be wrong, but the chances of somebody with all the skills and contacts needed being available for a year just now to help get the Old Town BID over the line seem slim. Even if there is, I feel it will be a full-time job just to give the BID the best chance of success in April.

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You only have to look at the recent comments of chief executive Roddy Smith of the nearby Essential Edinburgh BID – understandably buoyant after the recent success of the renewal ballot – to see what comparisons will be made.

A turnout of almost 70 per cent and backing of a huge 91 per cent says it all about how satisfied the 550 businesses in the Essential Edinburgh BID involved are – and there will 650 once Edinburgh St James opens.

“The cornerstone of our new business plan is a £1 million marketing campaign focused on the BID area, as part of a £2.35m package to promote the area” says Roddy which only reinforces the task ahead for the Old Town. He goes on to say the EE BID area is the safest, cleanest and most welcoming district of the city as reported in the Edinburgh Visitor Survey.

So we get it, Essential Edinburgh is wonderful and Roddy has done a fantastic job during his time in charge. The job of the Old Town BID project manager is not to complete with all this but just to convince businesses that a BID is better than no BID. Having said that, there needs to be some indication of what happens if the BID is successful and how it will interact with its neighbour. The simple truth, as I’ve said before, is that competing is futile but working together is a viable option.

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What is disappointing is that Edinburgh Council seems to have no overarching business strategy for the city centre while pursuing far-reaching policies on transport and health.

Imagining a new future for the heart of Edinburgh city centre is Transformation project director Daisy Narayanan, seconded from Sustrans Scotland, but her role clearly does not include business. Sustrans’ remit is to ensure that the people of Scotland have access to a network of safe walking and cycling routes which makes her ideal for the job she appears to have been given with the council but leaves a gap in the overall strategy needed for the city centre.

If Edinburgh Council wants to transform the city centre it is a huge mistake to marginalise the importance of the centre’s 2000-plus businesses and even Essential Edinburgh needs to look towards coping with the change in retail habits, as Jenners has shown.

What is needed is a “Daisy” for businesses at the council and a “Roddy” for the Old Town BID. Maybe Roddy Smith himself could be seconded!

Nowhere worth going on hire bikes

The Edinburgh Cycle Hire Scheme starts in September and it will be interesting to see how that goes. Like Leith Theatre this is something many councillors like to be seen to be associated with and funnily enough when I looked at Chas Booth’s Twitter timeline to get the correct name of the initiative just following those details were some retweets of the Mogwai gig at Leith Theatre.

Chas is of course the Green Councillor for Leith and their transport spokesperson so not particularly a surprise. Most councillors however will also profess a desire to support small independent businesses, though that doesn’t seem to manifest itself quite so obviously unless they happen to be in Leith and being closed down.

I’m not sure what if any retail experience councillors have beyond popping into shops occasionally themselves and of all the business sectors retail is the most challenged and also the most relevant to the city centre.

If nothing is done in some areas folk will be safely cycling past nothing but tourist shops, takeaways and hotels.

The stage is set for Fruitmarket expansion plan

The Fruitmarket Gallery has issued a contract notice seeking a design team for a £2.4m project to refurbish their existing building and extend into the neighbouring warehouse building known to many as the Electric Circus.

There is no reason at all why the new space can’t be a multifunctional space acting as both a gallery and a venue and the Fruitmarket Gallery already has a history of putting on gigs, especially inbetween exhibitions. How much better would it be if the space was designed so that performances could easily be accommodated at any time.

It will certainly be interesting to see what design teams come up with and hopefully the public will be allowed to see proposed designs and comment.