Why retail gods may not smile on St James – Kevin Buckle

It was interesting to see the first shops being named for Edinburgh St James, even if they were just four different brands with one owner. No great surprise they were all clothing brands and it will be interesting to see what other types of retailer sign up and how many move from other locations.

Saturday, 27th April 2019, 6:00 am
Work continues on the new St James  but by the time it is open for business the retail landscape will have changed dramatically. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

It was interesting to see the first shops being named for Edinburgh St James, even if they were just four different brands with one owner. No great surprise they were all clothing brands and it will be interesting to see what other types of retailer sign up and how many move from other locations.

I’ve been told that of the 85 shops it is expected that 35 will be food-related, leaving 50 non-food outlets, and it is difficult to think of 50 different brands who could afford and want to be there. There also appears to be no estimates of how many shops will become empty elsewhere due to shops moving and this may, given the make-up of retail in George Street, be a particular issue there.

I don’t think anybody expected the high street to be in the current state it is in when the plans for a new St James Centre were first drawn up. Wonderful things were and are expected so there will need to be more than a great selection of slightly different clothing stores.

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An artist's impression of the Impact Centre's new concert hall

Possibly there will be a selection of slightly different gift shops but all the old mainstays like a good toy shop have been killed off by online shopping and I think we can also safely say there won’t be an HMV there unless their new owner can get a great deal – and that would sound alarm bells if such deals became necessary.

Given that another year and a half will pass before the St James opens the only thing that is certain is that by then other well-known businesses will no longer be with us and it may be more a case of who is left. Quite what role Mike Ashley will be playing on the high street by then is anybody’s guess!

I didn’t see any consideration given to this moving of businesses in the consultation for George Street but really there is a far wider context, whether that is the adverse effect on the West End or the ongoing problems being faced by Princes Street.

With the City Centre Transformation plan to be revealed soon I do hope that businesses in the city centre will be given fair consideration and certainly Daisy Narayanan, who leads the plan, has been very tolerant of my constant reminders and I have to say also very supportive. Quite how all this translates come the big plan I can only wait and see but I rarely see placemakers mention business beyond tagging on that they will benefit from improved public realm and active travel.

I have to declare an interest in Waverley Mall, of course, but it is hard to believe they will struggle to fill the development on their roof due to start early next year given the location facing on to Princes Street and next to the station. That can only eat into the possible candidates for St James.

Whatever happens I do really hope something is done about Princes Street, which as one of the major thoroughfares in Europe is currently embarrassingly dull – and some have said a lot worse. Edinburgh council can play their part by changing their planning policies but that can only really be a start.

As more shops are announced for Edinburgh St James there will become more of a feel for how it is going to fit into the bigger picture and there are others strings to the centre’s bow – but at the core will always be the retail element.

While it is easy to see Waverley Mall and Edinburgh St James complementing each other that will not be the case elsewhere. There will definitely be interesting times ahead.

Concert hall’s Impact remains to be seen

Speaking of whether projects will compete or complement each other, with most folk bending over backwards to justify the Impact Centre – which narrowly gained approval this week – it was generally agreed that it will not have an adverse effect on other venues such as the Queen’s Hal and Usher Hall. I suspect that is not the case.

The Impact Centre claims it will be much more than a posh concert hall, catering for all types of music and events, and if that is the case then that brings them into competition with many other venues including the council’s favourite, Leith Theatre.

As is the way, those with money attract more money and while others struggle to raise funds the Impact Centre received a £20 million boost from UK and Scottish government funding.

I say the Impact Centre, but I have now just read it is to be renamed the Dunard Centre to acknowledge the massive financial support offered by Carol Grigor and her Dunard fund.

Of course there should be news fairly soon about the Royal High School and while the odds are currently not in their favour I wouldn’t be at all surprised that if St Mary’s Music School were successful that they would become the Dunard Music School!

Wonderwall denied for aspiring singers

Lewis Capaldi is to help BBC Scotland to launch a nationwide hunt to find the country’s new singing star. A ten-strong shortlist chosen by a panel of industry experts – and I dread to think who they may be – will be revealed in September.

Open to all singer-songwriters over the age of 17, entrants are asked to submit short videos which must feature both an original composition and a cover version that isn’t Wonderwall – I may have made that last bit up, but it is useful advice.

Those who want to check out Scotland’s new talent more immediately can do so when Waverley Mall launches a new series of music showcase events starting this weekend in collaboration with The Youth Radio Network. It will be hosted by Self Mastery Mentor Leila Khan – and no, I didn’t make that up.

The next showcase is on May 18 and 19 so anybody interested in playing then or at future dates should contact the mall with a few details and links to songs. The Wonderwall advice still stands.