Edinburgh pubs: Concerns over 'trojan horse' bar plans in city centre square

Residents have objected to plans that could see alcohol sold in the ‘haven’ square until 1am.
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Edinburgh residents fear they are being misled by a “Trojan horse” application for a new city centre charity hub and café, after plans emerged for a late-night bar to open in the same location.

Confusion over two ‘contradictory’ proposals for the vacant building on Gayfield Square have sparked hundreds of objections in response to alcohol licences sought for the premises.

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Two separate applications have been made which could see alcohol sold from the premises until as late as 1am seven days a week.

Planning application made for a 'temporary' alcohol licensePlanning application made for a 'temporary' alcohol license
Planning application made for a 'temporary' alcohol license

Those living around the square say a drinking venue would lead to significant noise disturbance and increased levels of anti-social behaviour.

Plans lodged by SAFE in 2021, a “charity for community public safety”, were granted permission, allowing a change of use of the property from storage to food and drink and business.

Documents submitted to the council at the time said the main uses of the spaces would be hot desking, a café, and an events, conference and training space.

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But earlier this year SAFE applied for a licence for 1 Gayfield Square to serve alcohol from 11am to 1am seven days a week, as well as off-sales until 10pm, with permission also sought to allow live music and wedding receptions in the venue.

It said the plan was for a “café for the local community, and events including art exhibitions, tutorials, tastings, events during the fringe”.

News then emerged of “an exciting new specialist rum bar” opening on Gayfield Square, sparking further concern.

Since-deleted articles published online said ‘Ruma’ would open this summer offering “a range of top rums and spirits from around the world, as well as an epic cocktail menu”.

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In a recent post on social media, Steven Aitken, one of the people behind plans for Ruma, said he and Jamie Shields, who runs Summerhall Drinks Lab in Newington, were hoping to open the new venue ‘sometime in August’.

A bid separate to the one by SAFE has been lodged by Mr Shields for a temporary, or ‘occassional’, alcohol licence at 1 Gayfield Square for the period August 1 to September 11, operating Wednesdays to Sundays from 5pm to 1am with a 12pm opening on Saturdays.

His application described a ‘ground floor café/bar with capacity for 60 people’ including a ‘training and event space, and office area’.

It is understood the council has received hundreds of objections in response to the provisional and occasional licences.

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Gayfield Square resident Jonathan Ungar, said: “We are very concerned by the misleading nature of the application, presented as ‘a cafe plus a space for exhibition and events’ but with a very different set of activities hidden in the application. And we question the appropriateness of the applicant: a charity whose purposes are completely at odds with the running of a licensed entertainment venue.

“Gayfield Square is a residential enclave, a haven of tranquillity, maintained by residents, welcoming visitors to the gardens to sit peacefully or walk their dogs undisturbed and where families, children and senior citizens can feel safe.

“The building is not soundproofed and given its size and capacity, its use as a venue for live and recorded music would be detrimental to the health and welfare of residents as their peace would be undermined and their sleep disturbed.

“Those buying off-sales will enter the gardens, whose openness to all day and night we cherish but which leaves us vulnerable.”

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The charity shares an address with Edinburgh-based social enterprise and employment specialist GTS Solutions CIC. It said SAFE “has no interest in its property ever being used as a bar primarily driven by on and off sales of alcohol or a live music venue”.

It added that “abuse” of the building had been reported to the authorities and legal advice had been sought on the matter. When contacted about the residents’ concerns, Mr Shields admitted Ruma had no current claim on the site or any prior links to any other organisations involved in the property.

An alcohol licence has been sought “to enhance the flexibility of the property and allow the supply of wine, low alcohol products and drinks associated with small corporate gatherings and launches of fundraising activities,” it said.

In a statement SAFE said it was “aware of the delinquent activities of Ruma and the companies and individuals behind those companies and it has reported this abuse of its property to the authorities and is currently taking legal advice on the matter.

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