Edinburgh's Abbey's Cafe under threat after road closures for student flats development see takings plummet

Co-founders of a cafe fear they will have to shut up shop after business plummeted due to road closures for a student flats development next door.

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Jason Harvey and Ashley Blythen have been running Abbey's cafe at the top of Abbeyhill, for nearly two years. But they had to give notice to their four staff when takings nosedived after developers Glencairn started work on the 150-bed student accommodation, leading to the closure of West Norton Place next to the cafe as well as one lane of Montrose Terrace where customers could previously park.

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Mr Harvey said: "We knew the development was going to happen, but when they presented the planning application and did all the consultation there was no word of the road closures and that's what's having the devastating impact. Essentially our business is almost being squished inside a construction zone."

And he wants to know why the inevitable impact of developments on neighbouring businesses is not given a higher priority in the planning process.

He said: "West Norton Place is just a little road but it's the main thoroughfare people use to walk, so that was our passing trade. I found out about two weeks beforehand, verbally on site, that the road was going to close. There was no pre-warning whatsoever about the lane closure on Montrose Terrace which happened two weeks later.

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"As well as the lane closure the footpath is diverted onto the road. And all the concrete trucks and lorries come in front of us and reverse onto the site, so not only is the thoroughfare closed, from Monday to Friday we have trucks parked in front of us every 10 or 15 minutes. We're literally been obscured and cut off.”

Mr Harvey said the works were due to continue until August 2023. “The road and the lane will be closed that entire time.”

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The road closures outside the cafe have dramatically reduced business and are threatening its future.

He said the landlord had waived the rent for the time being to try to help them.

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And he said the developers agreed to put up some signage. "But by then it was almost too late. We gave all our staff notice about two weeks ago and unless there's any kind of financial support coming from the developers, the contractors or the council that'll be it.

"My question is, when developments like this happen, why is the impact on businesses not something that is prioritised before the site is set up?

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"I've seen sites set up in London and all the signs go up and the fencing and hoarding is done as quickly as possible so everyone is aware all the businesses are operating as normal.

The main pedestrian thoroughfare to the cafe has been blocked off during construction.
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"I feel like when developers are going for planning permission, the road closures and those things need to be outlined. These things always affect the surrounding businesses and there needs to be something in place to help mitigate that and support businesses. We spend millions on a development but it seems to be at the expense of a few local businesses. I don't think that's right or fair."

Landlord Alexander Meddowes described the situation as “shocking” and “unreasonable” and said he believed the developers should help the cafe financially.

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In an email to Mr Harvey, copied to councillors and others, Glencairn managing director Daryl Teague listed the occasions when they had met or discussed the development with the owner and tenant of the cafe and said they had provided safe access across their land during construction and signage to direct passers-by to the cafe. He added: “We cannot be held responsible to financially support this business.”

A council spokesperson said: “The decision to grant planning permission for this development was taken with due regard to the need to manage construction and movement in the area and that the arrangements agreed took into account accessibility for existing businesses.”

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