These are exciting times for Edinburgh, and in particular for our city centre.
But as we look ahead in the development of a City Vision for 2050, as we see the fruits of the strong city partnerships that delivered our City Deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds in Government investment in our Capital, and as we see the new £1 billion development at Edinburgh St James rise, it is worth pausing to ask a simple question: How is our city centre working?
As the organisation responsible for investing well over £1 million a year of businesses’ hard-earned cash in their Business Improvement District, it’s a question we constantly ask ourselves at Essential Edinburgh, particularly at this time in our five year term. In the next month we ballot our levy-payers as part of our democratic process of renewal.
The answer to that important question, happily, is that our city centre is thriving. But the key to ensuring that this remains the case in future is to keep working together, to avoid complacency setting in.
Why am I prompted to report so positively on how the city centre is working? To begin with, the economic performance of our city centre is absolutely vital to its health and wellbeing.
Consider some of the following. Edinburgh’s city centre continues to deliver economically. We know this because we measure it. In the three years since monitoring began, we have seen hospitality sector sales increase by 13.5 per cent in the BID area. In the five years since the last renewal ballot, our retail sales have increased by 9 per cent – ahead of the UK average by 3 per cent and the Scottish average by 13 per cent.
These figures are driven by the attraction of our city centre for residents, workers and visitors alike. Footfall remains a key driver of economic activity, and footfall figures show the city centre led UK averages by 5.2 per cent , well ahead of the 2 per cent target we set for ourselves five years ago.
Demand for space in the city centre remains very high, driven by a shortage of appropriate space – even allowing for the entire new £1.2 billion city block at Edinburgh St James which is now beginning to rise out of the ground.
However, our city centre also has to perform as a place in which people feel safe, an environment that they can enjoy.
In these regards, it is worth noting that 80 per cent of visitors to the Business Improvement District thought it was cleaner than the rest of the city, 83 per cent found it more welcoming, and 89 per cent felt safer than elsewhere in the city
These figures are not achieved by accident, but by hard work and dedicated and sustained partnerships, in which Essential Edinburgh plays a fundamental role.
For example, our Clean Team provides services additional to those supplied by City of Edinburgh Council. That’s seen us clean graffiti, clear more than 14,000 bags of waste a year, and scrub 65,640 square metres of chewing gum from our pavements. We’ve invested six figure sums on Christmas decorations and year-round displays, and on improving wayfinding signage, and on anti-litter campaigns.
We’ve reduced retail crime significantly through our Check Out initiative, which sees retailers share real-time information, and Check In which helps tackle hotel fraud.
We also continue to fund CCTV cameras and our weekend taxi marshalls help 100,000 people a year get home safely.
We work closely in partnerships with our members – of course – but also with Police Scotland, with City of Edinburgh Council, and with all of the Edinburgh Festivals to ensure that the city centre plays its rightful role at the heart of all of our city’s activities.
As part of the city-wide China Ready project group, we were delighted with the news that Edinburgh Airport has secured a direct flight to China, a key aspiration of the city’s partners. This will further enhance the economy and tourism potential in Edinburgh.
That partnership approach remains absolutely at the centre of all that we intend to do over the coming five years to play our part in delivering further and continued success for the city centre.
We will do that by continuing to do what we’ve done well so far – and doing it even better.
But we will also do more in some areas: we will commit more resources to marketing our city centre, and to policing it to make it an even safer place for everyone to enjoy, night and day.
Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh.