The Easter break has seen welcome footfall returning to the city with both residents and visitors enjoying the better weather and ongoing relaxation in restrictions. It’s especially pleasing to see so many people pulling suitcases, sitting in the new outside hospitality spaces on the street, and of course walking carrying shopping bags. We are still some way short of pre-pandemic figures from 2019, but there is optimism now that life is starting to return to some sense of normality. However, support is still needed, especially for the retail sector.
Recent announcements for the government on a retail strategy are helpful but not enough. The current short-term relief on business rates must continue. We need a review of business rates to give parity between city centres and out of town retail parks. We need to continue the good work on reimaging empty units. Edinburgh has a unique set of circumstances to cope with at present and in the main has managed to avoid the huge problems faced elsewhere. Yes, we do have vacant units in the city centre, however we also have 90 new units opened in the St James Quarter – nowhere else in the UK has seen a new increase in retail space in the past five years. Recently, the Council leader talked positively about working with landlords and developers to reimagine space in the city centre, and this is to be welcomed and supported.
We need some vision and imagination to make this happen and when this can be coupled with incentives and support from the private and public sector, positive change will continue.
Change is never far away and with a Low Emission Zone pending, major redevelopment of the public realm on George Street and Hanover Street, new cycle provision, and positive work about to start on the former Debenhams and Jenners buildings. This will give challenges to businesses and some short-term pain as projects progress, businesses will need support and assistance to cope with the undoubted disruption.
The long-term vision for the city centre involves pedestrians as a priority, followed by cyclists and public transport. This is to be applauded but it is also imperative that businesses can operate effectively, maintain delivery and work access and most importantly of all get their customers to their front door. We look forward to working proactively with the Council to make this happen.
The recent Edinburgh Tourism Action Group conference was a hugely positive affair, with the industry coming together to look forward and discuss key issues. A new structure to deliver the management of tourism in the city is needed. We must actively market ourselves to the world and we must ensure we address issues of sustainability, fair work and how we use our public spaces. We need to support our aviation industry and airport to return to previous levels, whilst also attracting new routes and partners. We need to continue to attract new investment into the city, support our own entrepreneurial spirit in the city, promote and cherish our Festivals and culture and above all work together as a city. People from around the world will start to travel again soon for both tourism and business events, and we need to be prepared to compete in the market.
Essential Edinburgh is also starting to prepare for our own renewal process with our draft business plan out for consultation with city centre businesses. There are many major issues to address of course, but the city is in a fantastic place to take advantage of the opportunities on offer and continues to be a wonderful place to live, work and do businesses. We may have an historic past, but we also have an exciting future.
Roddy Smith, CEO Essential Edinburgh