Toby Withall: Edinburgh City Deal needs to work in harmony

As the City Deal for Edinburgh moves closer, albeit after another delay, it's an opportune time to think about where the city is going.

'Edinburgh has the basic principles of something special,' writes Toby Withall. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor
'Edinburgh has the basic principles of something special,' writes Toby Withall. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

This investment represents a huge opportunity for us, but it will only be fully realised if we focus on the right areas.

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While City Deals in other parts of the country have been characterised by tens of thousands of construction jobs and significant investment in transport networks, Edinburgh must follow its own course. Even if that means channelling funds towards less PR-friendly initiatives.

Of course, big projects have an important role to play. But the City Deal could also be used to address other issues and develop our existing infrastructure.

After a difficult start, the trams project has clearly had a positive impact on locations such as Edinburgh Park, Haymarket, and York Place. Our tech sector is another success story that needs sustained. While Skyscanner and FanDuel have been the most prominent stars, ZoneFox and QikServe are part of a second generation of firms emerging from incubators – a positive sign, but more could be done to help them.

An integral part of that should be a reinvigorated way of setting out our offer to these companies. Edinburgh has an obvious appeal: four universities, a strong student population, courses aligned to industry needs, and opportunities to collaborate. It’s also markedly cheaper than establishing a business in London or San Francisco.

However, we still need to sell the city as a place to live and work and our planning system also needs an overhaul.

Finally, placemaking needs to be a core part of how we develop and regenerate parts of Edinburgh. Quartermile is a fantastic example of what can be achieved: a mixed-use scheme bringing the residential, commercial, and academic worlds together. There’s an opportunity for us to do the same with Haymarket and Fountainbridge.

Edinburgh has the basic principles of something special; but we need to get them working in harmony. That’s where the City Deal can make a real difference, provided we channel investment into the right areas. Even if that doesn’t always make headline news.

• Toby Withall is office agency partner at Knight Frank in Edinburgh