For many years questions have been asked about the future of Princes Street and projects proposed to ensure its prosperity. Plans for an underground mall – Princes Street Galleries – were aborted, while Edinburgh has tinkered with traffic flows and ideas of pedestrianisation.
Princes Street matters because it is arguably Scotland’s most famous thoroughfare and its health is a symbol of the country’s vitality. If you visited Paris and witnessed a down-at-heel Champs-Élysées, this would leave a lasting impression.
The street is now at a crossroads as it faces twin pressures from the internet and the new St James Centre. High street shopping is in decline as customers turn to online and alternative out-of-town options. High rents on Princes Street are adding to this problem. And the nearby St James development, with its improved facilities, is threatening to lure flagship stores away from their once indispensable position facing the castle.
Princes Street therefore needs to reinvent itself. And it must begin that process immediately.
A more open-minded approach is required from planners on what is viable. More residential, more hotels, restaurants and coffee shops and more experiential units will be part of the future. The Johnnie Walker Visitor Centre in the former Fraser’s store in the west end is an example of this.
Princes Street must also link better with the Gardens, which are woefully underused. The dual carriageway is enough to dissuade most locals from ever venturing in. By working together – and there are interesting plans to develop the Gardens – both can benefit from increased footfall and new uses.
Simply hoping that Princes Street will remain a premier shopping destination will not be enough – the time for reinvention is now.