THIS promises to be an exciting year for Edinburgh’s world-renowned city centre – building on the successes we have seen in recent years.
Continued development of the retail offering with leading names attracted, an increased calendar of events and festivals, high satisfaction ratings in visitor surveys, and solid plans being progressed to enhance our city centre all point to progress.
This will be my last Friends of the Scotsman piece as chief executive of Essential Edinburgh as I leave in March to develop business interests. I’m delighted that I can pass on to my successor, Roddy Smith, an organisation that is playing its part in the partnership that is delivering such success.
I was very proud that during our renewal ballot for the Business Improvement District, we secured massively improved support from amongst the 600 levy-paying businesses we represent, and an additional £5 million of private funding to improve the city centre. The priority was the £1m post-tram re-launch of the city centre through the This is Edinburgh campaign in conjunction with Marketing Edinburgh and City of Edinburgh Council.
I’ve also taken real pride in our achievements in improving the appearance and cleanliness of the city centre, in improving security for retailers through our Check Out initiative, and other successes.
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Looking at this year, one key area will be the Edinburgh St James development – worth £850m to the city. Developers TIAA Henderson Real Estate is a long-term investor, which has a record of delivering successful major retail, leisure and mixed-used regeneration projects across Europe.
The partnership approach is in play for this enormous project at St James Centre. The £61m required to improve infrastructure and public space in the area will be facilitated by the city council through a new funding model. Work will start here in September and Rochelle Burgess, general manager for St James, will represent Henderson Global on the Essential Edinburgh board.
With a growing population of just below 500,000, and a wider city-region population of more than 1.6m, leading retailers see Edinburgh as a city to invest in as continued growth will drive footfall and the sector, and we’ve seen recent evidence of that confidence expressed by retailers such as John Lewis, H&M, Burberry, and Apple.
We work together – public and private sector – to better promote and market our city and its myriad opportunities and attractions, and this plays an important role in persuading retailers when they are considering locations for investment.
One area in which that partnership working is seen to good effect is in Edinburgh’s unrivalled global reputation as Festival City, with the summer and winter festivals huge drivers of footfall and spending in our retail and hospitality sectors which are so vital to employment.
For example, it was heartening to read that Edinburgh’s Christmas, supported by Essential Edinburgh, has had a record-busting year with more than 500,000 visitors buying tickets for the festival’s many attractions – up by more than 40 per cent on the previous year.
A total of 541,151 people paid to take part in this year’s festival, compared with last year’s figure of 386,045
And the success doesn’t end with the numbers of tickets sold – with more than 3.6m people visiting the two major sites, Princes Street Gardens and St Andrew Square, during the Christmas festival, an increase of 37.6 per cent on the 2013 festival.
The positive impact on city centre businesses is reinforced by footfall figures in the Edinburgh Christmas period up by 9.8 per cent on last year in Princes Street, and by 15.6 per cent at St Andrew Square (South St Andrew Street). In general, the city centre footfall figures were up by more than 5.7 per cent on the previous year, its highest level for three years.
I am proud of our city centre and the contribution I have made and, as a recent study assessing the impact of the This is Edinburgh campaign showed, Edinburgh locals are too.
Asked to rate how proud they were of their city before the campaign began, 51 per cent said eight or above out of ten, now the figure rating eight or above is 88 per cent.
Most pleasing for a business organisation like ourselves is that the people are most proud of our night-life, restaurants, bars and shopping. The Campaign this year, has more activities including Edinburgh Fashion Week.
Finally, I would like to thank all those that have worked with me and I look forward to seeing Edinburgh City Centre going from strength to strength.
• Andy Neal is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh www.essentialedinburgh.co.uk