The future of Edinburgh’s historic thoroughfare is up for discussion. Here, Gordon Henderson and Julie Logan look at the best ways forward
By Gordon Henderson,
senior development manager at the Scotland Federation of Small Businesses
WHAT next for the Royal Mile? Only two months ago we were being told about brightly-coloured cobbles and a total traffic ban. I’m getting consultation fatigue.
We need to get away from our historical reliance on retail only and encourage a mixture of uses to attract footfall, and so trade, to our centres. The Royal Mile does very well for a mixture of attractions and so the debate here has moved on to what sort of retailers should be located on the Mile. The action plan notes the need for “an improved, more diverse, retail offer”. Yes, we need a mixture of sectors represented for a healthy street but interfere with market forces at your peril.
Independent retailers of all shapes and sizes need to be encouraged, as do non-retail independent businesses. Edinburgh’s council needs to be careful that its Royal Mile action plan encourages business owners to grow the local economy rather than present them with more regulation. The Royal Mile has some of the most expensive retail space in the city, with huge business rates bills that have seen many small independents leave. Encouraging diversity in the face of these cost challenges is going to be difficult.
We have just finished being consulted on transportation strategy and the council has launched its city centre consultation, aimed at “transforming the heart of Edinburgh’s city centre”. I hope the council’s various departments can synthesise their strategies. Let’s have some joined-up thinking please.
Edinburgh does a fantastic job of attracting visitors who like to visit the Castle, Holyrood Palace, Scottish Parliament, and the Museum of Scotland. Great, but let’s not complain when they want to walk the street linking these attractions and spend some money. The tourist shops so often vilified as being purveyors of “tartan tat” are independent retailers who have looked at who shops on the Mile and supplied what they are looking to buy. These shops are busy, so there is demand. These tourists are staying in our hotels, drinking our beer, and eating in our restaurants, thus creating jobs and wealth in the local economy.
By Julie Logan,
chairperson of Old Town Community Council
The main issue to be addressed is the need for a better balance between the residential and commercial uses of the Royal Mile, as well as a better variety of retailing.
There has been a significant loss of housing in the area as more premises have been given over to holiday flats and student accommodation.
The council needs to take a view on what kind of development it wants to permit in the city centre.
How the heart of the Capital is to be developed needs to be taken more seriously.
As far as retail is concerned, the Royal Mile is dominated by souvenir shops, and most people would like to see a better variety of shops – and that doesn’t necessarily mean more cafes or bars.
People have been calling for improved traffic management for some time. We have been suffering from all the diversions of traffic from other parts of the city centre. The pressure of traffic in this area has increased hugely.
Most people want to maintain local access and the bus service, but they would like to see a reduction in the volume of heavy vehicles, tourist buses and coaches and through-traffic diverted from elsewhere.
That requires some traffic management.
There has already been quite an increase in the number of tourists who come all the way down the Royal Mile, but it is important that the action plan takes on the fact it is not just one big street – it is four different streets, which each have their own different character.
That’s what encourages people to explore the full length of the Royal Mile – each part has a slightly different vibe.
The consultation process which is being undertaken is much more interactive than the usual survey, which is a good thing, but we obviously have to wait and see what comes out of it.
n The next consultation workshop takes place tonight from 6.30pm to 9pm at Trinity Apse, focusing on issues affecting the High Street.
Another consultation, on Tuesday, April 23, from 6.30pm to 9pm, at Riddle’s Court, will focus on Castlehill and Lawnmarket.
A MAJOR public consultation is under way on plans to transform the Capital’s most famous thoroughfare, which include banning cars from parts of it, making it more pedestrian-friendly and smartening up shopfronts.
The plans include a ban on trade waste containers being left on the street or in closes, banning all traffic except for buses and cycles between Blackfriars Street and St Mary’s Street and investigating both seasonal and permanent lighting opportunities.