Princes Street could become lined with cafes and restaurants as Edinburgh Council reacts to retail pressures

Princes Street is expected to welcome cafes and restaurants as planners overhaul rules to rejuvenate the iconic shopping street

Friday, 24th January 2020, 5:47 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 12:05 pm
Shops on Princes Street could be turned into cafes and restaurants under council planning changes

Edinburgh’s premier shopping street could be transformed into a host of cafes and restaurants and become “more authentic” under plans to relax strict planning rules.

The move comes amid fears that Princes Street could be set for a rocky future with the St James Centre expected to open its doors to customers in October and Jenners announcing it will be departing its iconic location. It is hoped that allowing one third of the units per block on Princes Street to be turned into non-retail uses will help give the famous route a new lease of life.

Under the proposals, to be approved by Edinburgh City Council’s planning committee on Wednesday before being examined by the Scottish Government, pubs and hot take-away traders will not be permitted to take up any of the prime locations. But Princes Street could see a cinema, concert hall, casino or even a sport or recreational offering take on units – as well as cafes and restaurants. It will still be up to councillors on the authority’s development management sub-committee to determine whether change of use proposals are deemed acceptable.

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Rules are also set to be relaxed on uses for units on George Street, Hanover Street, Frederick Street and Castle Street.

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Princes Street is facing an ‘exodus of shops’

Conservative city centre Cllr Joanna Mowat, who also sits on the council’s planning committee, said: “I think we have got to be flexible. The challenge for us is that the nature of people gathering in town and city centres is changing and we have to acknowledge that.

“I hope the interpretation will give us the flexibility to try ideas but keep what’s at the heart of the city centre. The future of retail is a bit unknown at the moment and the St James Centre is going to radically change the city centre.”

The council received only 17 responses to a public consultation including NHS Lothian which highlighted “poverty and inequality and the provision of alcohol within the city centre”.

Planning convener, Cllr Neil Gardiner, said: “Edinburgh’s city centre is unique in its combination of beautiful built heritage, world-famous attractions and retail, and we want to make sure that we maintain this diversity and vibrancy as the Capital develops.

“Our vision is for a welcoming, relaxing and people-friendly environment and under the city centre transformation we’re already making moves toward creating this in the heart of Edinburgh.

“Changes to the supplementary guidance, which received broad support as part of our recent public consultation, will support this, while recognising changing trends amongst shoppers and other people who spend time in the city centre, to ensure a healthy balance of uses on key city centre streets.”

Business leaders have welcomed the proposed changes to help the street to become “more authentic”.

Garry Clarke, east of Scotland development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Princes Street needs to be free to play to its strengths and the move to enable a broader balance of commercial premises on and around the street is welcome in terms of its potential.

“The result could be a more vibrant and welcoming central city area that is less reliant on retail and is more representative of the diversity of Edinburgh and its business base. We would like to see Princes Street become more welcoming to the city’s small businesses to give residents and visitors alike a more authentic Edinburgh experience.”

Green city centre Cllr Claire Miller added: “Princes Street has one of the most wonderful settings of any city centre in the world, but the shops mostly don’t live up to the setting.

“The best city centres of the future will thrive if they provide really attractive places for people to spend time in a range of ways rather than just shopping. More flexible guidelines on use of shop units might help that but only if the whole package is right.”