PLANS to expand one of the Capital’s biggest retail parks are set to be approved – despite fears it will take trade away from the city centre.
The owner of Fort Kinnaird is seeking permission to increase the amount of shopping space it has, claiming the site needs more room in order to compete with rivals such as Straiton.
The plans include creating improved access for pedestrians and cyclists and adding new mezzanine areas for existing stores. If approved, the expansion would create up to 400 new jobs, and would be expected to create an additional turnover of up to £22 million a year.
But the plans have attracted a storm of protest from city centre retailers including John Lewis and the St James Centre, which fear that more trade will be taken away from the central Edinburgh.
The council’s own report into the proposal agreed the development would have an impact on city centre retail, although it suggested the “worst-case” scenario would see 0.6 per cent of city centre trade diverted to the expanded centre.
Steven Robb, planner with GVA Grimley Ltd, objected to the plans on behalf of client Henderson Global Investors, which owns the St James Centre, saying they would “seriously undermine the future health of Edinburgh city centre”.
He said: “Whilst recognising that commercial centres have a position within the city’s shopping network, proposals like the current application at Fort Kinnaird threaten to undermine the development plan objective of maintaining the city centre at the head of the hierarchy.”
John Lewis has also expressed concerns. On behalf of the company, Andrew Woodrow, senior planning consultant with CB Richard Ellis, said: “Throughout the document, reference is made to the fact that the St James Centre development is a sign of strength and confidence in the city centre.
“The economic downturn makes it clear that the proposed enhancements to the St James Centre are unlikely to progress in the short to medium term. The city centre will therefore not benefit from this investment, but if consent is granted at Kinnaird Park, it will face increased competition.
“On the basis that like competes with like, impact is likely to be spread across all similar centres. That will include other out-of-centre commercial locations, The Gyle, Ocean Terminal and Edinburgh city centre.”
East Lothian Council has also expressed concerns on the impact the plans might have on Musselburgh town centre.
However, despite officials admitting the impact on the city centre would not be “ideal” John Bury, head of planning, said there were “compelling reasons” for allowing the additional shopping space at the retail park, and recommended that councillors grant the application at a meeting next Wednesday.
He said: “Whilst any impacts on the city centre are not ideal, the overall assessment is that the levels of trade diversion identified here are not of a scale to cause significant or lasting damage to the city centre’s vitality and viability.”