It was great to walk around the city centre in December and see the streets, shops, markets, and attractions bustling with people again. From St James Quarter in the east end to Johnnie Walker in the west end the city felt vibrant and alive again, a real positive move forward. In addition to the existing retail and hospitality offering we had an innovative ice rink on George Street, ski lodges and pop ups, Christmas markets and attractions as part of Edinburgh’s Christmas and a superb lighting display as part of the Festival of Kindness in St Andrew Square Garden.
The resilience and fortitude of the retail and hospitality sectors has never been in doubt and again they have adapted their way of working to cope with ever changing demands. Their efforts warrant the support of our residents and visitors, and they definitely got it. Footfall on Princes Street was excellent, significantly outperforming the Scottish and UK average, in fact it was twice as good as the UK High Street Index.
The 2021 footfall on Princes Street was 10 per cent down on 2019, which was way above expectations. The restrictions on hospitality that were put in place during the month, of course, had a major impact, not least the numerous Christmas parties that were postponed. Without these restrictions in the second half of the month and the unfortunate cancellation of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay this gap would have been further reduced.
As we move into 2022, we must do so with optimism for what the year brings. We can’t predict what may or may not happen with the pandemic but what we know is the city will adapt and deliver. The last year has shown that when allowed, visitors will come to the city and residents will use our quality retailers and hospitality providers. Our festivals, event producers, theatres, hoteliers, and professional sport teams will adapt to do what they need to do to meet demand.
The redevelopment of Princes Street is continuing at pace and ‘22 will see progress on large projects such as Debenhams, Top Shop, Jenner’s and the new Red Carnation Hotel and we look forward to hopefully seeing more bars/restaurants take up space on the iconic street. The superb St James Quarter will continue its drive towards completion with new hotels, cinemas and tenants and we will see the opening of other world class destinations such as The Gleneagles Townhouse. A number of office spaces in the city centre are being modernised and redeveloped to support hybrid working and everyone looks forward to the safe return of office workers. Final planning and sign off for the redesign of George Street will also hopefully progress.
City centres have suffered far more than other places during the pandemic, but we can look forward with huge optimism to what the future brings. Edinburgh has an historic past but is changing and adapting for its exciting future. The pace of change has accelerated exponentially in recent years and there is no doubt we are on track to recover and recover well, and put in place a city centre that our Capital residents need and are proud off and attracts visitors from around the world.
Roddy Smith, Chief Executive of Essential Edinburgh