SoCo project: ‘A wider strategy needs introduced’

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TODAY’S news that work is finally beginning on the redevelopment of the Cowgate fire site is a major boost.

It has been a decade since the blaze which ripped the heart out of the Old Town and no-one could have predicted then that it would take this long to finally start on the reconstruction.

The economic climate has obviously added to fears that such a major project may fall the way of so many others.

Today, we have real signs of progress and a tentative completion date of next summer.

Sure, there has been controversy and debate as you would expect with any major construction project. There has been a long- running row over the architectural style of the development in particular, but now is the time to move on and to ensure that we look to the future.

The proposed development includes a new hotel, shops and the reconstruction of the La Belle Angelle nightclub. There will also be new public spaces and links between the Cowgate, Chambers Street and South Bridge.

In all, the developers say the £35 million investment will create 200 jobs and deliver a major boost to tourism.

Of course, the impact of the development remains to be seen and making predictions is always dangerous, but you sense there is a real opportunity here to kick-start a wider revival of the South Bridge area.

Surely such a key location could offer more than a range of bargain retail outlets? That’s not to say there is not a place for these shops which are, after all, clearly very popular. But if we are serious about improving the offering of the city centre to both tourists and residents then a wider strategy needs to be employed.

That will involve the city council working with business and tourism leaders, as well as the wider public, to decide how we should capitalise on the SoCo project.

With some big names moving in already as part of the development, hopefully others will be willing to follow.

That is for the future, though. For now, we should probably just settle for the news that work is finally starting.