TRADERS and business leaders have hailed a resurgence in the Capital’s West End after plans were unveiled for another supermarket to open in the tram-blighted area.
News that a Morrisons supermarket is now set to join giants Sainsbury’s and the existing Co-Op store in a so-called “traders’ triangle” at Shandwick Place has raised hopes of revitalisation in an area ravaged by four-years of infrastructure work for the transport project.
A metro-style Morrisons will takeover the premises of Jessops camera shop which closed last month after the firm went into administration in the wake of a significant decline in fortunes in 2012.
It comes just a few months after Sainsbury’s opened a new flagship store in the former Habitat building on Shandwick Place, explaining that the planned tram stop as a “great attraction” – and weeks after Tesco announced plans to open a new branch at the West End of Princes Street this summer.
Today, retail experts said fresh interest from big business signalled a reversal in fortunes for the beleaguered West End, which saw footfall slump by 32 per cent in 2012 amid widespread roadworks resulting from the trams scheme.
David Birrell, chief executive at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said the new arrivals was “fantastic news” for the West End and “adds weight to suggestions that the tide is turning”.
He said: “The area has shown incredible resilience through a period of major upheaval and difficult trading conditions, and the commitment of both Tesco and Morrisons gives cause for optimism,”
And he said: “While we do not have details about whether the Tesco and Morrisons decisions equate to new jobs and fresh investment elsewhere in Edinburgh or beyond, it could herald a period of revitalisation for the whole area, with much needed economic benefits.”
Echoing these views, Mike Lamont, secretary of West End Community Council, said the investment from supermarkets created more choice for consumers and “shows confidence” in the future of the area raising “hopes for revitalisation”.
He added: “We’ve been talking with a lot of local business owners who have seen some very hard times recently – you only have to look at the number of businesses that have gone under in the past couple of years and at least some of that has to be down to the trams.”
Last year, a report by Essential Edinburgh – which runs the city-centre business improvement district – showed a huge drop in visitor numbers to the city centre caused by the tram works.
Princes Street saw a drop of 14 per cent while Shandwick Place witnessed a collapse in footfall, with a 32 per cent drop on 2011.
Both areas are affected by tram works, with Shandwick Place closed to traffic as the road is dug up for the transport project. Chief executive Andy Neal today said the West End was “likely to become a prime location once the trams are up and running” in 2014.
“I’m delighted to see these big names coming back to the city centre and I’m sure the competition and demands of the market will decide which stores thrive,” he said. “I think this definitely could signal a revitalisation for the area, I think Shandwick Place will come out of this really strongly as a key location. It’s likely to be one of the first places visitors come to in the city so will no doubt benefit from impulse sales, and the kinds of things people need to purchase when they first arrive. Supermarkets fit into that requirement well, which is probably why so many are seeing it as a prime location.”
But concerns have been aired about the growing concentration of giant supermarkets squeezing out independent retailers. Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said he was “slightly worried” about big chains forcing out smaller local food providers.
“Having been in the area recently supermarkets seem to be about the only thing that’s still open,” he said. “However, I have spoken to people in the area and the general view of the supermarkets is quite positive, as they are seen to drive footfall to the area.”
Local councillor Joanna Mowat said Shandwick Place had always supported “convenience shopping” given the its spread of bus links. It’s an area that has suffered in recent years so it’s good to see they have confidence in it,” she said. “A lot of small business owners have said to me that a supermarket can help support the smaller high streets – it brings people in rather than having them drive out to one of the big out of town places, and footfall is very important to smaller business owners.”
However, Grant McKeenan, who runs the Copymade shop in West Maitland Street, said the introduction of yet more supermarkets in an area so hard hit by the tramworks was “ridiculous”
“The supermarket chains seem to be like bookies, when one opens up a rival does also so they end up taking over much of the town centre because they can afford the expensive sites. It’s overkill and spoils the look of the city centre. I know one newsagent in Shandwick Place that has been there for a long time and I doubt he will survive because the supermarkets will sell the same things he does.”
Gordon Mowat, managing director of Morrisons Convenience said: “We are rolling out the Morrisons M local estate at pace this year and these acquisitions give us a kick-start in securing a solid foothold in this key sector. The convenience market is growing as more people shop locally and we want to be in a position to take advantage of this. Morrisons M locals offer a differentiated fresh shopping experience with half the space dedicated to fresh food and scratch cooking all at great prices.”
‘Resurgence of prosperity
GRAHAM Birse, of Edinburgh Napier University’s business school, said the decision by major supermarket chains to open outlets at Shandwick Place was a signal of improving fortunes for an area hit hard by protracted trams works.
He said the arrival of Sainsburys and Morrisons showed a “resurgence of prosperity”.
“I would say this does prove that commercial property values along the route of any transport improvement will increase.
“The Edinburgh public have had to be very patient for a number of years while the tram project stalled then again began to gather momentum.
“During that time it has been difficult to see how prosperity and trading would return in the short term but this activity on behalf of these supermarkets is a signal that the value of commercial properties and the value of trading is on the up. There’s been a lot of analysis done on the effect the trams could have and up to 200 people could be getting on and off these trams at the various stops along the route.
“I would like to think this is the beginning of a resurgence of prosperity and trading in the area.
“However, I would like to think that there will be a real mix of establishments beyond supermarkets and convenience stores.
“Boutiques and lifestyle businesses are a long-established part of the West End in Edinburgh, as they are in places such as Bruntsfield and Stockbridge.”
Four years of misery
March 2008: Shandwick Place is closed for trams works for the first time.
April 2008: Cockburns Deli and the Phone-In telecoms store, both on Queensferry Street, put their leases up for sale, blaming plummeting trade as a result of the Shandwick Place closure.
July 2008: Parts of Shandwick Place fully reopen to shoppers as tram utility diversion work is finished ahead of schedule.
August 2008: Tram works blamed for severe flooding on Shandwick Place after the street was turned into “a river” amid torrential downpours. Tram company denies it is to blame.
September 2008: Shandwick Place closed again to general traffic
February 2010: West End traders react angrily after tram bosses announce plans to return to Shandwick Place to carry out work that should have been completed two years ago.
May 2010: Shandwick Place branded “a disaster” by developer Frank Montgomery who was hoping to attract a major supermarket to the area.
November 2010: Councillors approve plan to ban all vehicles, except trams and buses, from Shandwick Place.
Februaryy 2012: Sweet shop Sugacane closes, blaming the ongoing disruption for ruining business.
September 2012: Beleaguered businesses in Edinburgh’s West End secure a cut in their rates bills to compensate for the impact of the tram works.
Jan 2013: Au Bar on Shandwick Place closes citing tram works.
February 2013: Supermarket wars break out as Morrisons and Sainsburys set to open stores on Shandwick Place.