£50m West End regeneration faces heritage fight
Plus: WhatsApp ban at NHS Lothian; Swift sell-out at Hearts hotel; and Royal Ballet comes to the Grassmarket
High-class hotel plan ‘may be scaled back’ amid move to save historic staircase
A former lap dancing bar, backpackers hostel and neighbouring buildings in the West End would be transformed into an upmarket hotel under £50m plans due to be decided by city councillors this week.
The development on the corner of Shandwick Place and Queensferry Street - opposite the Johnnie Walker Experience - is seen as a significant boost to the area amid concerns about the popularity of the St James Quarter drawing city centre visitors away from the West End.
The proposed 129-room four-star hotel or serviced apartments is expected to attract a leading operator, and a report to be presented to councillors estimates it would generate £7.4m a year for the local economy and support 384 jobs.
However, the national heritage watchdog Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is objecting to a key part of the proposals which would see an original 200-year-old staircase demolished.
Developer Chris Stewart has warned that dropping this part of the scheme would force the ambitious proposals to be significantly scaled back.
The background: Self-made property tycoon Chris Stewart has spent four years buying up seven neighbouring buildings, largely involving vacant upper floors, to make the development possible. As the man behind widely admired restoration projects such as the Edinburgh Grand luxury apartments in St Andrew Square and Advocates Close in the Old Town, Chris Stewart has established himself as perhaps the most successful and respected developer of sensitive heritage sites in the Capital.
Heritage objection: City planning officials are recommending that councillors approve the plans at a meeting on Wednesday, but HES is asking them to refuse permission for the demolition of an original central staircase. HES says its “significant architectural interest” means it should be saved.
Chris Stewart says: Stewart told The Times that he was surprised by the objection and described the demolition as a “necessary loss” for the project’s success. “Removing the staircase is vital. Without that approval, we will need to significantly alter and scale back our investment plans.”
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
THE LIGHTHOUSE FAMILY: City-based auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull are selling a remarkable set of papers belonging to one of Edinburgh’s most celebrated families on Wednesday. An archive of the renowned Stevenson engineering dynasty goes under the hammer and is expected to make up to around £70,000.
The family’s personal papers, from the birth of Robert Stevenson in 1772, to the death of D. Alan Stevenson in 1971, will be auctioned live online as part of the Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs sale. Also included in the sale is a letter sent home by writer Robert Louis Stevenson, a member of the family, from the yacht, The Heron, and a posed photograph of him in Samoa. Cathy Marsden (pictured), Head of Books & Manuscripts at Lyon & Turnbull said: “This is a stunning archive from a family who made a huge contribution to not only Scottish, but British engineering.”
NHS LOTHIAN WHATSAPP BAN: Staff at NHS Lothian have been warned not to use WhatsApp or other instant messaging services to conduct health service business. Medics commonly use WhatsApp groups to fill rotas and arrange cover for sick colleagues, but the health board has issued advice to all staff stating the practice is banned due to concerns confidential patient or private staff information, such as personal mobile phone numbers, could be inappropriately shared.
SWIFT SELL-OUT FOR HEARTS HOTEL: Taylor Swift fans have helped the new 4-star hotel built into the main stand at Hearts’ Tynecastle Stadium get off to a flying start. The 25-bedroom hotel, the first to be owned and operated by a club inside a stadium in the UK, officially opened for bookings at the weekend and has already sold out for the two nights of the pop icon’s visit to Murrayfield on 7 & 8 June. The hotel - whose rooms include TV screens with the option of a live feed of the Tynecastle pitch - is also welcoming visiting rugby fans for the Six Nations.
DANCE AWAY: Scotland’s national dance centre, Dance Base, has announced an exciting new partnership with the Royal Ballet School to create new opportunities for young people, aspiring dancers and professionals. The initiative will see the Royal Ballet launch its first regional training hub at Dance Base’s award-winning studios in the Grassmarket. The training programme will be open to everyone from children trying dance for the first time to students working at various levels and teachers.
PAVEMENT PARKING BAN: More than 100 drivers have been fined in the first week of Edinburgh enforcing the ban on pavement parking, double parking and parking across dropped kerbs. The £100 fines are reduced to £50 for prompt payment. Double yellow lines are due to be painted today on two streets close to Portobello Prom, Regent Street and Marlborough Street, after residents complaints of bin lorries getting stuck and wing mirrors being knocked off since enforcement action began.
RENT RISE TO FUND BUILDING: Council tenants are facing an 8.4% rent rise in order to raise the funding required to build 3,560 social rented homes and retrofit 12,400 council houses over the next 10 years. The local authority acknowledges the rise could have a significant impact on tenants who don’t get housing benefit, but says that without the increase it would be unable to deliver its building plans. Soaring construction costs and private investors turning away from social housing projects in Scotland has seen building work on such schemes largely dry up in the Capital.
CASH DEMAND FOR HOMES: City councillors will this week be asked to debate a motion by SNP leader Adam Nols-McVey that suggests the additional business rates income generated within the city part of the Forth Green Freeport – which can be retained by the local authority unlike business rates outside the incentivised zone – “be spent on projects with a lasting value to the city.” His suggestions is that these should be an acceleration of housing development at Granton Waterfront and to help facilitate further tram line improvements.
PUB SHOOTING MAN IN COURT: A man has appeared in court charged with murder following a fatal shooting outside the Anchor Inn on West Granton Road on Hogmanay. Gary Robertson, 20, made no plea when he appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Friday.
BID FOR MORE STRIP CLUBS: The Sex Workers Union is asking the city council to increase the number of strip cub and lap dance venues it licenses in the Capital in an effort to improve working conditions for the women who work in the venues. The union says that limiting venues to the current three creates a “monopoly” and offers no incentive for operators to improve pay and conditions. The city council previously tried to enforce a ban on the venues but was forced to relent after losing a legal challenge.
SWINGING TIMES: Those monkeys at the zoo - they know a thing or two about grabbing an Inquirer headline… Hard on the heels of the week-long adventure of the macaque which escaped from the RZSS’ Highland Wildlife Park (now safely home, don’t fret), Edinburgh Zoo marks the fourth birthday of Masindi, one of their resident chimp tribe, by releasing this endearing birthday snap. Masindi is a critically endangered Western chimpanzee, and the youngest member of the troop. Happy Birthday!
AIRBNB ‘COMPROMISE’: City officials are preparing a report on proposals from the Association of Scottish Self-Caterers which would fast-track permission for many of the 1,300 properties operating before the city’s control zone came into effect in September, 2022. Councillors voted 6-5 to consider the compromise despite opposition from the Greens who said it would limit the council’s ability to enforce rules which could lead to more properties becoming available as family homes.
GREEN FOR GO: Work on building the largest electric car charging hub in Europe is due to begin later this year after the Edinburgh Green project at Edinburgh Park was given the go-ahead. The development by Shelborn Asset Management features almost 800 EV charging points and also includes 800,000 square feet of high grade offices, an events space and new public park.
Tax Free shopping for visitors could reap benefits for city businesses
Edinburgh high-end retailers stand to benefit to the tune of tens of millions of pounds from a UK Government policy reversal that is looking increasingly likely, although not yet certain. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has ordered the Treasury to review the so-called VAT “tourist tax” in the strongest signal that a change in direction may be in the offing around next month’s Budget.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has been asked to look at both costs and benefits associated with a decision made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor to end VAT tax-free shopping for tourists in 2020. The Treasury maintained it would have little or no impact on tourism or tourist spending.
The decision came into effect when the UK left the European Union in 2021, and since then the luxury sector has campaigned it is costing billions of pounds in lost revenue each year, discouraging high spending visitors, and potentially costing jobs.
More than 400 businesses and organisations have signed up in support of the campaign. The revelations come amid fresh pressure this weekend from the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the chief executive of Heathrow airport to reverse the tourist tax.
A report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research published last year estimated that the economy is missing out on an £11 billion boost because of the tourist tax. Official data has also pointed out the problem, and it said a million fewer tourists visited the UK last summer compared with the same period in 2019.
The campaign kicked off with a letter to the Chancellor by hotelier Sir Rocco Forte whose international group of luxury five-star hotels was born in 1998 in Edinburgh with the opening of The Balmoral. Other capital backers include Edinburgh International Airport, Essential Edinburgh, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, Rox and Gleneagles hotels.
WELCOME DEVELOPMENT: The opening of a significant new city centre office development will assist in tackling the shortage of Grade A office space in the Capital. Nearly 40,000 square feet over two-floors hits the property market after a large-scale refurbishment at Quartermile One, at the former Edinburgh Royal Infirmary building.
FASHIONABLY NEW: Edinburgh fashion boutique Rachel Scott Couture marks its 20th anniversary by opening a new boutique on Queensferry Street which will feature a selection of eveningwear, jewellery and accessories by designers including Vivienne Westwood, Temperley London and Suzanne Neville.
GROW, SCALE, SUCCEED: The annual Edinburgh Business Festival, organised by Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, takes place on March 27th at the Royal Bank of Scotland Conference Centre, 175 Glasgow Road, Edinburgh with the theme “Grow, Scale, Succeed.” More information Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce »Page not found | Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
ONE DAY ON THURSDAY: Edinburgh looks glorious, as always, in the backdrop to the new Netflix series One Day which airs for the first time on on Thursday. The epic story of Dex and Em, based on David Nicholls 2009 novel which also inspired the 2011 film, was partly shot on location around the city. Watch out for Arthur’s Seat, the University of Edinburgh’s Old College, the West End and the Old Town.
PHOTOGRAPHY RETROSPECTIVE: The first Studies in Photography curated exhibition at the 6WS gallery will be a retrospective of the work of acclaimed Edinburgh artist David Williams. The Dreaming Differences exhibition features a selection of works taken from throughout his award-winning career and celebrates his contribution to photography in Scotland and beyond. The exhibition, at 6 William Street, in the West End, runs until 17 February.
SARA’S SCANDAL: Author Sara Sheridan’s follow up to The Fair Botanists is proving a hit and she will be at Greenside Church on Thursday, at 7.30pm, for the Edinburgh launch of The Secrets of Blythswood Square. Hear more about her tale of scandalous secrets in Victorian Glasgow at this special Toppings booksellers event.
LIKE A PIGG: Popular city food haven Piggs is expanding. As well as its well-frequented venue in the Royal Mile it is set to open a second outlet for its Spanish charcuterie and tapas selection in Bruntsfield Place at the end of March.
TOP AWARD: City centre Tipo restaurant, run by high-flying chef Stuart Ralston, is the only new Scottish entrant among 20 venues in Britain and Ireland to receive a coveted Bib Gourmand award from foodie bible Michelin. Congratulations, and buon appetito!
CULT HERO TO CLOSE: Edinburgh legend Bells Diner, renowned for its burgers, steaks and fries, is to shut its doors in St Stephen Street permanently on March 23. The Diner has enjoyed cult status since opening around 50 years ago.