Essential Edinburgh chief executive Roddy Smith has welcomed Edinburgh’s status as a “party city” in an interview with the Evening News. His remarks come just weeks after a Holyrood bid for legal powers to crackdown on Airbnb and short-term rentals.
“I think one of the interesting things recently has been stag and hen do culture and Christmas party culture,” says Mr Smith.
“Edinburgh is the festival city but it’s now becoming a massively popular short-term destination city – our hotels are running at 70, 80, 90 per cent occupancy.
“You can’t have one without the other. It just needs to be watched, managed and controlled. I do not at the moment perceive it as a massive problem for the city.”
George Street-based Essential Edinburgh seeks to promote its Business Improvement District between Charlotte Square and the redeveloped St James Centre to visitors.
Lothian MSP Andy Wightman has called for council powers to limit short-term rentals in Edinburgh to reduce anti-social behaviour, loss of community and housing displacement.
Mr Smith says his organisation is committed to working with the police, city council and others to ensure the area between George Street and Princes Street is safe and clean.
“Leisure and hospitality sales are going up five or six per cent every month,” he adds. “Edinburgh city centre is booming in terms of its leisure and hospitality offering.”
He credits CCTV and taxi marshals as innovations to help reduce trouble on nights out.
“We’ve found in the past if you have a couple of hundred people all coming out of nightclubs at two in the morning all the worse for wear there’s fights over taxis,” he adds.
“It’s a party city and we have to make it as safe as possible and that also means cleaning up after it.
“Our guys are out at five or six in the morning at weekends, cleaning up the mess after a Saturday night.”
Mr Smith says hotspots for clean ups are around nightclubs in Frederick Street, Hanover Street and around the back of West Register.
“You’ve got the rough with the smooth – everyone wants people in the city.
“Everyone wants them enjoying themselves spending money but we have to make sure that’s done as safely and securely as we can.”
Mr Smith says residents and businesses are always consulted on Essential Edinburgh’s own events, with recent successes including the Christmas Street of Light on George Street.
“We’re fairly lucky because there are a few residents in our area but not many.
“A lot of these people will know what they’re coming to – you’re not going to buy a flat in the centre of town if you want to live a completely quiet life.
“In a lot of respects, you’re not going to please all the people all of the time and there has to be that balance struck between economic development, economic viability, dragging people in and ensuring it’s done as safely and securely as possible.
“To be fair to all the bars and restaurants, they are very clear about that – that’s why have opening hours, stewarding and licensing curtailed to certain times of the year so it doesn’t tend to be a big issue in our city centre.”
Mr Smith also credits the Pubwatch scheme, linking bouncers by radio, for helping reduce problems and identify troublemakers.
“Yes, there’s going to be trouble in the city now again when you have a lots of people drinking but it’s not a huge area of concern beyond the norm of any city centre.”
Mr Smith says Essential Edinburgh is looking to increase police on the city beat and points to a joint project at Waverley Mall in helping tackle anti-social behaviour by youths.
“We’ve worked with them proactively to give them something to do so they don’t cause trouble,” he says.
Businesses have flagged homelessness and begging as a “big problem” in the city centre, prompting Essential Edinburgh to work with charities.
“We don’t want to move the problem we want to help address it in a citywide context,” says Mr Smith.
“It’s not about looking after our own yard, it’s about the whole city working together to support people who are homeless and begging on the streets because it is becoming a more important area as numbers grow.”
Mr Smith hails the “sexy” £1bn St James Centre redevelopment for turning the Capital into a shopping destination to rival Glasgow.
“I think we’re in exceptionally positive economic times for the city centre,” he says.
“While by no means immune to what’s going on in the UK, Scotland and rest of the world, at the moment there seems to be a lot of investment into the city.
“I’ve still to meet anyone who’s got anything nasty to say about St James – it was not a popular building.”
But he says the city centre’s “centre of gravity” shifting eastwards is a “big challenge” in ensuring visitors also venture further afield once the centre opens in October 2020.
“You’ve got this magnificent, huge shopping centre in the east end of the city – how’s that going to affect the equilibrium and how things move elsewhere in the city?”
Even the controversial ten-month closure of Leith Street is a “necessary evil” to deliver “the single biggest thing that’s going to happen to our city centre in a generation,” he adds.
Mr Smith says the St Andrew Square redevelopment is another example of investors’ faith in the Capital’s future.
“It’ll make it really key and a place everyone wants to go to – which is fantastic and resounding thumbs up to people’s faith, long-term, in Edinburgh.
“These people aren’t putting money in to make a fast buck they are putting money in for the long-term looking at this way down the line and Edinburgh’s long-term future as a thriving economic powerhouse built a lot on our tourism and festival visitors.
“We’re the second largest tourist destination in the UK. The key as a city is to maintain and enhance that.
“One of the challenges is the key reason people come is for heritage and we live in a very old city that needs constant love and attention.”
Mr Smith says the future should be about maintaining the mix between Edinburgh’s heritage and economic vibrancy.
“The City Vision is about future-proofing ourselves because no one knows where we will be in 20 or 30 years.
“We need to ensure Edinburgh is successful going forward. It’s about adaptability and braveness to do things that are unique to Edinburgh but world class,” he adds.
The global competition to design a new Ross Pavilion in Princes Street Gardens is a prime example, he says.
Mr Smith says the biggest single future challenge for the Capital is maintaining advances in infrastructure, including roads, public transport and parking, to keep pace with growth.
“We need to decide what we want in 20, 30 years’ time as a city and start living it.
“This may be a bit naive and simplistic of me but decisions need to be made for the longer term health and vibrancy of our city, not for fairly short-term political gain.
“I accept that it’s unbelievably difficult for politicians because they might be voting for something their constituents don’t like.”