Café culture coming to Edinburgh’s Princes Street

ONE of Scotland’s most famous streets could be transformed into a prime location for dining and drinking under plans to revive Edinburgh city centre.
Danish architect Jan Gehls radical vision for Edinburgh city centre. Picture: ComplimentaryDanish architect Jan Gehls radical vision for Edinburgh city centre. Picture: Complimentary
Danish architect Jan Gehls radical vision for Edinburgh city centre. Picture: Complimentary

Retail units in Princes Street will be allowed to transform into coffee shops, restaurants and bars for the first time as part of new measures to enhance the retail environment and improve the night-time economy.

Planning chiefs in the capital are expected to amend guidelines to allow 25 of the 78 retail units in Princes Street to shift to food and beverage outlets.

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City leaders said it was clear that the “status quo is not an option”, adding the area would “continue to decline” unless changes were made.

The new guidelines will be put out for public consultation and could be in place as early as this autumn. Edinburgh City Council said it had already heard from interested developers.

Key to the move is the widening of pavements on the north side of Princes Street by about two metres, which is currently being considered and would be introduced before the tram network is launched next summer.

Wider pavements would encourage the new food outlets to introduce outdoor dining and open later into the evening, the council said.

The shift to later opening hours and the introduction of food and drink was first proposed by the leading Danish architect Jan Gehl, who presented a radical new vision for central Edinburgh in 2011.

His plans went further than the current council proposals, arguing for the pedestrianisation of Princes Street and banning of all traffic except the trams and cyclists.

Business leaders welcomed the latest proposals and said the move would contribute to a more vibrant evening culture.

Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which represents 600 city-centre traders, said: “For city centres to survive, they need to offer a great experience. A row of almost a mile with only shops does not deliver that.

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“The chance to break for a chat with coffee or a glass of wine will deliver a much more pleasurable experience.”

Councillor Ian Perry, the city’s planning leader, said the council would resist attempts by coffee chains to saturate the market, and said he wanted to see a variety of new restaurant offerings.

Cllr Perry added he expected demand for units to be largely centred across from Edinburgh Castle and close to the tram stop in Shandwick Place.

He said: “Most successful city centres have a mix and are not just retail. The status quo is not an option for Princes Street. Princes Street has been declining for years and will continue to unless we make changes. This is a big change we are promoting.”

The same planning document also suggested improvements to the Tollcross area, which has long been dominated by nightclubs and discount retail. This will include a ban on all new pubs and the continued restriction of late-night takeaways.

Gloom on the high street as number of shops lying empty rises

THE number of shops lying empty in Britain’s beleaguered high streets has grown in the first three months of this year as fewer businesses look to open new premises.

The decline in demand has pushed rents downward, according to the report by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), as 21 per cent more surveyors reported the amount of unoccupied shops had risen rather than fallen.

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Meanwhile, other areas of the commercial property market, such as office and industrial space, saw demand for premises strengthen slightly with no major rises in empty floor space.

Sarah Speirs, director of RICS Scotland, said: “The high street has been struggling for some time now and the pressure doesn’t look like easing up on retailers and landlords any time soon.

“And though fears of a triple-dip recession have now dissipated, the flat trend in wage growth will continue to act as a drag on the high street.”