Roddy Smith: Count the cranes – business is doing the heavy lifting to make Capital boom

You could be forgiven for thinking that things are looking very bleak for our high streets in the UK – and indeed trading conditions have been difficult for some time – but a changing landscape is quietly emerging in Edinburgh.

Scotland’s Capital outperformed the rest of Scotland and the UK ­during the crucial Christmas ­trading period. In our city centre, sales took an upturn during December 2018, when compared with December 2017. Edinburgh sales increased year on year by 1.4 per cent. This positive turnover was not reflected in Scotland as a whole, where sales dipped by 1 per cent and within the UK, where sales were flat year on year. Within Edinburgh, hospitality businesses experienced an increase in sales of 3.5 per cent during December 2018 when compared with December 2017.

Vitally, investors and retailers show no signs of losing their ­appetite for Edinburgh. If the adage that you can tell the prosperity of a city by the number of cranes on the skyline is true, we are in a good place!

However, this change must include a new vision for our city centre, one that I believe must embrace not just high quality retail, but also Grade A office space, new bar and hotel opportunities and private accommodation.

We have to accept our city centre must adapt and to do this city planners, developers and owners need to work together.

One of the major catalysts for change has, of course, been Edinburgh St James. This transformational £1 billion development is the largest new retail and leisure construction in the UK, with more than 120 shops and food and drink outlets as well as the top end W Hotel and residential apartments.

This development demonstrates investment faith in our city and will accelerate our place in the UK’s top shopping cities from 13th to 8th. It will serve locals and tourists alike, with the expectation of attracting the growing number of higher spending tourist as these numbers increase. Good news all round.

The east end of the city centre has been further enhanced by the Edinburgh Grand and the Mint Building (developed by the Chris Stewart Group), new Gleneagles and Malmaison Hotels as well as the Standard Life mixed use development which ­dominates the south side of St Andrew Square.

The further enhancement planned for the Registers area, and the ­proposals for the world class IMPACT concert hall will further cement the area’s importance.

However, within our city centre Business Improvement District, Essential Edinburgh understands the importance of spreading footfall throughout the city centre, supporting all of our member businesses. The good news is that development and investment is also spreading west. It is vital for the prosperity of the city that footfall is spread throughout the city with Princes, George and Rose Street complimenting the new developments in the east.

The former BHS building on ­Princes Street is under construction for a new retail and leisure development and the stunningly exciting plans for the Ross Bandstand will add greatly to the attractiveness for tourists and residents alike.

Recently, Diageo announced it is to redevelop the former House of Fraser building in the west end to become its Johnnie Walker visitor experience. This multi million pound investment and the imaginative use of an iconic building could not be better for the city as it will not only add a major tourist attraction, it will support visitor footfall moving throughout the city centre and support the retail and leisure operators along the length of Princes Street.

Cities must change and adapt to meet new demands from residents, business communities and visitors. Edinburgh is growing as a tourist destination – our airport links us to an ever-increasing number of ­destinations around the world – and although the increase in visitors is both welcome and vital for our economy, we need to recognise the historic nature of our city and to ensure that as we develop we protect the infrastructure and the environment that does much to attract people.

Princes Street needs to adapt for the next part of its life and to the needs of modern day shoppers, tourists, office based businesses and the residents of our city.

This can only be achieved with some foresight, imagination and the collective will of everyone involved – let’s start the conversation!

Roddy Smith, chief executive, ­Essential Edinburgh.