We’re not prepared to sell ourselves short

City centre attracts the top names in retail, says Andy Neal

Investment is flowing in to Edinburgh's retail sector. Picture: Gareth Easton

For many years Edinburgh has been seen as playing second fiddle to Glasgow when it comes to shopping – but that looks set to change.

Edinburgh already has a vibrant and interesting mix of retailers, from independent stores to our major high street names. But with projections showing the city continuing to grow and prosper in the years to come, investment is flowing in to the Capital’s retail sector.

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With a growing population of a little under half a million, with a wider city-region population of more than 1.6 million, there is no doubt that Edinburgh is seen as a city to invest in by leading retailers as continued growth will drive footfall and the sector.

Add to that mix the effective partnerships forged between public and private sector to better market our city and its myriad opportunities and attractions, and there is little doubt that we will deliver an even better shopping experience in the future.

A number of significant developments and indicators already signpost this quite clearly, including:

• The massive investment in the St James development, and its huge positive impact on shopping in the city centre

• The view of high street giant John Lewis that Edinburgh is one of the UK cities in which they have most confidence in the future

• The work by H&M at their Princes Street flagship, which is their only complete concept store in Scotland

• The anticipated opening of an Apple store on Princes Street

• The continued attraction of top names to Multrees Walk – most recently Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry

These are clear indicators, from top retail names, that Edinburgh is a city high on their list for investment and development.

Digging a little deeper into one or two of these, the potential is even more exciting. For example, the development at St James which is worth £850 million to the city. Developers TIAA Henderson Real Estate is a long-term investor, which takes a considered and sustainable approach to assets and has a strong and well-recognised track record of delivering successful major retail, leisure and mixed used regeneration projects across the UK and Europe

The partnership approach is in play for this enormous project. The £61m required to improve local infrastructure and public space in the area will be facilitated by the City of Edinburgh Council through a new funding model, announced by the Council and Scottish Government, known as the “Regeneration Accelerator Model” (RAM)

The development will significantly strengthen Edinburgh’s healthy local economy, drawing more people into the city and increasing spend. Excitingly, by its scale – 1.7 million square feet – the development will elevate Edinburgh to 7th position in UK retail ranking (from 13th).

Of that massive area, a million square feet will be prime retail, food and leisure space and the project will also deliver high quality hotel accommodation and up to 250 new homes, along with 1,800 car parking spaces, 2,300 retail jobs and up to 7,000 jobs during the construction work. The figures are staggering.

John Lewis, a hugely successful driver of footfall wherever they operate, are delighted with the regeneration. Andrew Murphy, the man who heads the company’s retail operations said Edinburgh was one of the cities which most enjoyed the confidence of the retail giant – but he stressed how vital it was that this development went ahead.

On a smaller scale, but also very significant, the very successful H&M chain will relaunch their extended Scottish flagship store at 41-43 Princes Street this summer, increasing its size from three floors to four.

While details must wait for the official launch, H&M has confirmed that lots of new additions will make this store the only full concept H&M store in Scotland. The company’s Home Range has been added, and the fashion range will be extended to even more customers. Extra men’s concepts have been added too, including H&M Sport and Men’s Trend.

Of course, Apple is still to confirm its plans for Princes Street, but it is anticipated that the city centre will enjoy one of the world’s leading brands opening a flagship store. We keenly await the news. More certain is the opening this month of the new Burberry store in Multrees Walk, adding to the recent capture of the Tommy Hilfiger opening and again stressing Edinburgh can compete with the very best in Britain.

• Andy Neal is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh www.essentialedinburgh.co.uk