THERE will be arts events, open-plan cafes and farmers’ markets. Statues of famous Scots will survey the scene and plants from a world-famous botanical gardens will bring a touch of greenery.
But this is not a plan to construct a new cultural venue in Scotland’s capital – it is a multi-million-pound project to turn Edinburgh’s Waverley Station into the “heartbeat of the city”.
The major revamp is being planned by Network Rail which believes its prime city-centre site has huge potential to become more than just a transport hub.
Shops will also be shifted from the main concourse and “clutter” removed to create more space for booming passenger numbers.
A new statue could provide a focal point and meeting place – such as of Sir Walter Scott, whose novel gave the station its name. Flowers and plants will bring greenery in under a joint project with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
However, the most dramatic change will be at the east end of the station, using space vacated by a former Royal Mail depot. Network Rail said the area could be used for Edinburgh Festival performances and other events and exhibitions.
The firm, which owns the station along with Glasgow Central, said it also planned cafes with outdoor seating under the newly glazed roof top, creating “a piazza with a continental feel”. The space could also be used by farmers’ and other food and craft markets. A “cycle hub” will also be established at the east end station exit. This could be staffed to provide information to cyclists as well as secure parking and lockers.
The moves follow the completion last year of re-glazing the 25,000-pane station roof, a covered escalator beside the Waverley Steps to Princes Street, and upgrading the Market Street entrance.
The numbers using the station increased from 20 million to 22.5 million last year and is expected to grow significantly over the next decade.
Network Rail said it was investigating how Waverley could “become the heartbeat’ of the city – a status we think it truly deserves”.
Jo Noble, responsible for developing the station, said: “Waverley’s recent refurbishments, including the new roof, is only the starting point of the station’s journey to become a vibrant, exciting place as befits its status in Scotland’s capital.
“New space and opportunities have been opened up and we are keen to make Waverley somewhere people want to visit, whether they are travelling or not.”
City council transport vice-convener Jim Orr said: “Waverley Station is Edinburgh’s principal rail hub and for huge numbers of visitors it’s the first place they encounter. It’s important the station presents a fresh, vibrant and user-friendly welcome to everyone who passes through it and the plans Network Rail have will go a long way towards this.”
Marion Williams, director of heritage guardians the Cockburn Association, said: “Removing the retail units will greatly improve the main concourse, and restoring the dome of the booking hall is welcome. Introducing new uses to the eastern concourse, connecting with other city institutions and independent retail, would result in the station becoming a greater asset to the city.”
Essential Edinburgh, the city’s central business improvement district, said Waverley would play a key role in the future of the city centre.
Chief executive Andy Neal said: “The city centre needs to always deliver a great experience and first impressions are vitally important, so these improvements in the look and working of the station sound very good indeed. We are particularly keen on the signage improvements as we too have heard that finding your way around the station could be made much easier.”
The Scottish Government believes the station had a crucial role to play in developing the Scottish rail network. Neal said: “Waverley Station is a key part of this vision, acting not only as a major transport hub in Scotland, but one of the iconic symbols at the heart of Edinburgh.”