RAIL bosses should seize a golden opportunity to transform Waverley station into a shopping haven similar to major London terminals, retail experts have said.
Leigh Sparks, a professor of retail studies at Stirling University, has urged rail bosses to mimic successful models like King’s Cross and St Pancras in London if they are to “maximise potential” at Waverley.
It comes weeks after a controversial taxi ban came into force freeing up prime retail plots in the heart of the building.
Waverley is one of the busiest rail stations in Scotland with around 25 million commuters passing through its doors each year.
But experts believe the new private vehicle ban presents a chance to expand the retail offer to include boutique stores and franchises in what they have called an “untapped gold mine”.
Prof Sparks said Network Rail bosses should emulate London and Japan to exploit Waverley’s potential.
“When you think about the footfall that goes through Waverley, you have got a very interesting market and the retail offer should match that,” he said.
“I think a model like London should be their ambition in terms of a gateway to Edinburgh. They could look at more international examples like in Japan where railway stations are commercial hubs. This should also showcase Edinburgh.”
Waverley currently houses a popular Marks and Spencer mini-supermarket, fast food restaurant, bar and several eateries among its commercial portfolio, but it is thought more restaurants and franchises would be interested in leasing space.
St Pancras International boasts a blend of recognisable retail brands and independent stores with extended operating hours to cater to the early-rising and late-finishing commuter.
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh which represents hundreds of city centre outlets, said Waverley station had “fallen behind” stations at other major European cities.
“At the moment it’s below standard and needs to be upgraded,” he said. “The station is the first thing people see when they got off the train. Although there has been significant improvement to the environment, in terms of retail and restaurants it has fallen short of other capital cities, certainly some of the ones in London.
“This is not the consumer place it could be. At the moment you have a very basic retail offer and it should be brought up to the standard you would expect of a city. I think this is a great opportunity for Network Rail.”
Transport expert Simon Johnston, editor of the magazine Tramways & Urban Transit, said a retail hub in Waverley makes “absolute sense”.
“The space is absolutely ripe for retail development as long as it is sympathetic to the architecture of the station. This is an untapped gold mine,” he said.
“Transport for London is already getting rid of some of their ticket offices and using some of those spaces for supermarkets. Something like that or “click and collect” for commuters is an idea that Waverley could perhaps be looking at.”
Similar retail expansions in London stations have generated revenue worth hundreds of millions, he said.
Network Rail said there were currently no plans for the former taxi rank but conducted “regular reviews” to ensure its facilities met passengers’ needs.