Roddy Smith: Bidding to make city centre a special place

Roddy Smith is Chief Executive of Essential Edinburgh
Roddy Smith is Chief Executive of Essential Edinburgh
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How do you measure the success of a city centre? How do you know when a city centre is working as it should?

It’s a complicated issue in some ways – but at the end of the day to give an answer we need to answer some more questions, like:

– How many people are we attracting?

– Do they spend time and money here?

– How safe do they feel?

– Is it clean and welcoming?

– How does it compare with other parts of the city, and with other parts of the country?

In Edinburgh, we can answer all of these questions very positively.

During the past five years of our city centre Business Improvement District we have seen footfall figures perform ahead of the UK average by 5.2 per cent –smashing our target of two per cent and ensuring more people help provide our businesses with more opportunities. In turn, that means more jobs for our citizens.

All of those people have driven retail sales up by nine per cent, ahead of the UK average by three per cent and the Scottish average by a whopping 13 per cent. Although at present the retail landscape is challenging, Edinburgh continues to perform well against national indicators and with the pending arrival of Edinburgh St James, will add another dimension to our city centre, moving our UK retail ranking up to eighth.

Our hospitality businesses benefit too, with their sales up 13.5 per cent over the past three years.

But while we know people are coming to our wonderful city centre, do they enjoy the experience?

We know that 89 per cent of visitors to the city centre BID area feel safer than in other parts of the city. They appreciate the increased CCTV we have helped fund, and our taxi marshals have helped more than 100,000 people get home safely after weekend nights out. Our joint initiatives with Police Scotland, retailers, hoteliers and others have seen recorded crime down by almost eight per cent.

We also know that 80 per cent of visitors think the area is cleaner than elsewhere in the city. Significant credit must go to our Clean Team, who answer 500 rapid response call-outs per year, cleaned up more than 10,000 bags of rubbish, including collecting and disposing of more than 250 needles. Credit is due also to our retailers and our trade waste collection partner Changeworks. Our bespoke collection scheme has reduced the number of unsightly trade waste bins on streets, reduced lorry journeys, and collected 1809 tonnes of trade waste, diverting 699 tonnes of carbon dioxide from landfill.

However, being successful is one thing – ensuring we continue to be successful is another. That is why, if our levy-payers approve of our business plan, we intend to mount a major marketing campaign – spending more than £1 million – during our next term.

We will follow-up on the success of our This is Edinburgh campaign, which generated £50m in economic benefit, with a targeted, bold, colourful and imaginative marketing campaign dedicated to promoting the BID area.

It will highlight the diversity and spontaneity of the city centre, the quality of all it offers, and the superb environment and ambience it generates. Complacency is the enemy of future success.

After all, what’s the point of being successful if you don’t tell people!

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh.