• Officials at Edinburgh City Council, which owns 45 properties on the Royal Mile, want to dictate what kind of shops operate on the street. Picture: TSPL
Officials at Edinburgh City Council have revealed moves to dictate what kind of shops operate on the Royal Mile in a bid to overhaul its tacky image – more than two years after the leader of the authority pledged action.
It is expected to clamp down on the number of souvenir shops by introducing strict controls on the dozens of properties it owns on the thoroughfare.
The council has declared it is to become more "proactive" over the Royal Mile by managing the look of shops and the products they sell. However, opposition politicians have warned that the council had to "carefully consider" any intervention.
Council leader Jenny Dawe vowed to address concerns over the decline of the Royal Mile in August 2007, amid claims it was being over-run by souvenir shops and charity stores.
It emerged last year that the council was by far the biggest landlord on the Royal Mile, owning, in whole or in part, 45 of the 129 properties, with an estimated value of 45 million.
Many are leased out to Gold Brothers, the family-run outfit with at least 11 souvenir shops in and around the Royal Mile.
Other shops owned by the council include the Cigar Box, Royal Mile Whiskies, the Edinburgh Organ Studio, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's shop and the Old Children's Bookshelf.
The new move to improve the quality of shopping on the street was revealed in a "physical regeneration plan" drawn up by council officials. The report said the council had an opportunity to use its own assets to support inward investment.
Dave Anderson, director of city development, said: "There is an opportunity to improve the retail offer on the Royal Mile where the council, as owner of many of the retail units, could be more proactive in managing the look and product."
Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city's economic development leader, said: "As landlord to around a third of tenants on the Royal Mile, it is important the council has a long-term strategy in place to achieve best value for the city while, at the same time, promoting a balanced retail offering for residents and visitors."
A major conference on Edinburgh organised by The Scotsman last month heard demands for the council to follow the lead of authorities in Paris, which began moves to introduce controls over what is sold at street markets.
Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "This is long overdue. This is the pre- eminent tourism street in Scotland and the street all visitors, however long they spend in the city, want to walk.
"I don't know how it has happened, but suddenly there is almost only one type of retail offer on that street – the ubiquitous tartan shop."
Mr Birse added that a mix of retail was crucial on such an important street.
He said: "We need to be a bit more aggressive as a city. We have to discontinue some of these leases and think about the offer and brands that support the high-quality image Edinburgh wants."
However, Jason Rust, economic development spokesman for the Tory group on the council, cautioned: "While the council as an owner should have a sense of responsibility for the street, any intervention has to be carefully considered."