TRADERS today backed fresh plans to attract visitors to the Royal Mile, but called for a more imaginative approach to boost the number of independent shops.
A major public consultation is under way on plans to transform the Capital’s most famous thoroughfare, which include banning cars from parts of it, making it more pedestrian-friendly and smartening up shopfronts.
However, the Edinburgh branch of the Federation of Small Businesses said rent rises and the recession had left many shops struggling and fears the plans will threaten the Royal Mile’s character.
Chairwoman Ruth McKay said “pop-up” shops had sparked growth in other areas, while in Leith there were examples of businesses sharing premises to spread the risk.
She said: “We need to look at how we can be more creative and flexible about how we offer retail space, how we entice people in and give them an opportunity.
“When rents went up last year, there were concerns only big national chains would be able to afford to be in the Royal Mile. No-one wants it to end up like a generic high street.
“People are concerned to maintain the heritage of the Royal Mile – there have been several traditional shops like Scottish Soap Works and Bagpipes Galore which have moved away.
“These are the kind of places people expect to see when they come to the Royal Mile.”
Workshops are being held to give residents, traders and community groups a say on the proposals.
A website questionnaire will be launched this week to test public opinion on the Royal Mile Action Plan.
Planning convener, Councillor Ian Perry, said: “The key issue is to improve the environment for pedestrians on order to attract more people into the Royal Mile.
“What we are trying to do is transform the whole High Street to make it a more attractive place, which is important for Edinburgh as a tourist city but also for residents and traders in the area.”
He added: “The biggest way we can help traders is to get more people shopping in the street.”
However, Cllr Perry said the council was willing to look at all suggestions put forward by the local business community and that he had no concerns about traffic problems arising from the pedestrianisation plans.
He said: “We have done our traffic modelling and it will not cause any major problems for traffic flow in the city centre.”
The consultation on the proposals will run until May 17. Officials will report back to councillors in September and the changes could be introduced on a temporary basis early next year, with details fine tuned before a final scheme is implemented 12 months later.
The next workshop will take place on Wednesday from 6.30pm to 9pm at Trinity Apse, focusing on issues affecting the High Street.
Another one on Tuesday, April 23, from 6.30 to 9pm, at Riddle’s Court, will focus on Castlehill and Lawnmarket.
Preparing to go the distance
• Extend existing car ban between George IV Bridge and Cockburn Street by banning all traffic except for buses and cycles between Blackfriars Street and St Mary’s Street.
• Consider making the stretch from Blackfriars Street right down to Holyrood a low emission zone, removing all but the greenest commercial vehicles.
• Raise the road outside Canongate Kirk to the same level as the pavement in to create a “shared space” and slow traffic. Widen the pavement and reduce traffic speeds in the Canongate and Holyrood stretches and, longer term, consider resurfacing the road with traditional setts.
• Give pedestrians priority in Castlehill and the Lawnmarket, restricting vehicle access and widening the Lawnmarket pavements. Also, relocate coach parking from the Castle esplanade to Johnstone Terrace.
• Consider allowing only No 35 bus to use the bus stop on the High Street, with tourist buses allowed to access the stretch between North Bridge and St Mary’s Street but not to stop.
• Look at changing the No 35 bus from double-deck to single-deck, increasing the frequency of the service.
• Investigate re-routing one of the tourist buses from the Royal Mile to Holyrood Road.
• Impose tougher restrictions on leases for council-owned premises and liaise with private property management companies to encourage them to do the same.
• Stricter controls on all street clutter.
• Attract independent retailers to the area by promotional activity to increase footfall.
• Reduce the number of A-boards on the pavements.
• Stricter controls on presentation of trade waste – trade waste containers should not be left on the street or in closes.
• Review procedures for day-to-day management issues such as graffiti, bent signs, stickers, etc.
• Liaise with police to manage anti-social behaviour.
• Marketing and promotional activity to increase footfall.
• Winter strategy for off-peak events and promotions to attract people to the area.
• Investigate both seasonal and permanent lighting opportunities.