'Alive after five' drive to boost stores in city centre

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LATE-night shopping throughout the week, free parking and night-time street entertainment are among a series of proposals being considered by city leaders to breathe new life into the city centre.

Council chiefs are looking at a range of options to revive Edinburgh's main shopping streets after normal working hours and to help bring a more Continental-style feel to the area. They want thoroughfares such as Princes Street to come alive at a time when most shops and many cafes have already closed down for the day.

The scheme being considered, which would also include co-ordinating early-evening dining offers in restaurants and bars, is based on a project introduced in Newcastle last year.

The "Alive After Five" initiative, which has seen shops stay open until 8pm every night apart from Sunday, is said to be worth 246 million a year to the local economy and has been credited with providing a massive boost to the number of people visiting its city centre.

• Online poll: Would you like to see shops in the city centre stay open until 8pm? Vote now

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city's economic development leader, said: "We should be helping all sides of the hospitality and tourism trade to improve their offering to both visitors and residents and it is sensible to look at this, as people now work different hours and many want to access shops at different times of the day

"We want to encourage people to be in and around the city centre so they can use the shops, cafes and restaurants, so we are looking at ways of doing that.

"Parking revenue is already down because of the winter weather and tram-related displacement, so we would have to be careful about that. But we are looking at a range of things and we are very keen to work with groups like Essential Edinburgh to look at things like street theatre and street performers."

The recent survey of the city centre by Gehl Architects had recommended that more needed to be done to "animate" key city centre streets like Princes Street.

Ron Hewitt, chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said businesses would only stay open later if something was done to encourage people to visit the city centre after 5pm.

He said: "It is a terrific initiative but it requires a few things, such as more free parking. We have charges up until 6.30pm so to make this work we need to have a co-ordinated effort between the council and the retailers."Retailers are happy to be open if the business is there so we need to make it easier to stop, park in the city centre and go shopping."

Councillor Jason Rust, economic development spokesman for the Conservative group on the city council, said: "It is well worth pursuing but we do need to be cautious about how much money would have to be invested in this in these tough times."