Blow for Princes Street as £50m investor pulls out of hotel and shops scheme
Plus a potential comeback for city's bike hire scheme, victory for parents in childcare fight and awaiting First Minister's business reset
£50m regeneration of Princes Street thrown into doubt
The investor behind a £50m regeneration scheme has pulled out of the Princes Street project in a blow to the transformation of the city centre.
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Legal & General, part of the L&G UK Property Fund, has pulled the plug on its plan to turn the former Debenhams site into a luxury hotel and new city centre ‘hub’ with a shopping arcade, a restaurant and rooftop bar. The scheme was a key part of the ongoing vision to move Princes Street away from being simply a shopping street to one much more focused on ‘cafe culture’ and other leisure activities.
The move comes as the UK construction industry faces a major downturn fuelled by soaring costs and post-Brexit labour shortages.
FUTURE OF PRINCES STREET: The Debenhams site plan is one of a series of major regeneration schemes planned for Princes Street, with the ambitious Jenners restoration led by Danish billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, a boutique Red Carnation Hotel due to open in the former Royal Overseas League building later this year, and a £100m redevelopment for the luxury Ruby Hotels chain planned for the former Zara, Next and Russell and Bromley stores. The Legal & General plan is a significant part of the jigsaw involving the partial demolition and major redevelopment of three buildings, including creating a new pedestrian shopping link between Princes Street and Rose street. As well as a high-end hotel, the proposals for 109-112 Princes Street include a rooftop bar with spectacular Castle views, events space, a basement spa, and a fine dining restaurant.
The building at 109 was originally the Scottish Liberal Club, and a centre for political and social activity during the decades when the Liberal Party dominated the Scottish political scene. A bust of William Ewart Gladstone remained in the Debenhams’ store when it closed.
WHAT NEXT? Legal & General’s decision will be seen as significant as the pension and investment fund has a strong track record of supporting city centre transformation projects across the UK, including Glasgow, Cardiff, Salford, Newcastle, and Sunderland. In Glasgow, it is behind the iconic former college of building and printing being redeveloped into the Met Tower. This will be a technology hub for the city centre innovation district for Bruntwood SciTech, a 50-50 joint venture between Bruntwood and Legal & General Capital. The Princes Street site is being put up for sale with planning permission in place, but is likely to be too rich an undertaking for UK investors in the current climate. Could a sovereign wealth fund from the Middle East or China step in?
CONSTRUCTION CRISIS: The backdrop to Legal & General’s withdrawal is UK construction companies going under at the fastest rate in a decade, as a combination of high inflation and a significant slowdown in building and construction. More than 4,000 firms have become insolvent in the year up to the end of June, with the Buckingham Group, who worked on the new HS2 rail project and the redevelopment of Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium, becoming the biggest casualty. The rising cost of raw materials, such as steel and concrete, affected by double-digit annual price increases, and a skills shortage are among the factors, as well as the UK Government pausing major projects.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
CHILDCARE VICTORY: A group of 26 concerned mothers have won the right for their children with extra support needs to attend vital after-school clubs. They were angry that the City of Edinburgh Council had cut funding for the Edinburgh Childcare 4 All scheme just weeks before the new school year started and launched a petition to fight the move, as reported by the Inquirer on August 7. The issue was first raised on the influential Facebook site Edinburgh EGG, which has more than 14,000 members, and is a platform “powered by women, supporting each other.”
After four of the mothers handed a 3,000-strong petition to Lord Provost Robert Aldridge and addressed a meeting of city councillors last week, the women gained assurances that the council would take the service in-house, carry out an investigation into the decision, and there would be no significant reduction in service. One of the mums who was part of the delegation, Gillian Coulter, posted: “We won! We’re due a full investigation, guaranteed funding for us and funding made available for future additional support needs families. We couldn’t have done it without all you awesome EGGs…It’s amazing what can be achieved when 26 women band together and fight for what their children deserve.” Well done to all involved!
BIKE BIKE MAYBE: The world’s largest shared electric vehicle company might be coming to Edinburgh to replace the Capital’s aborted bike hire scheme. Edinburgh’s Just Eat-sponsored bike hire venture was abandoned in 2021 amid recriminations between the city council and operators Serco. The cost of resurrecting the project has been estimated at £20m, but the city’s transport leader councillor Scott Arthur has reported “really positive” talks with San Francisco-headquartered Lime. Lime offers electric bikes and scooters at “affordable” rental prices in more than 200 cities in nearly 30 countries. Cllr Arthur said the potential Edinburgh scheme would not include e-scooters.
DING DING KERCHING: The newly expanded tram line recorded its busiest month ever in August, as the Festivals and rugby internationals brought crowds of visitors back and the new Newhaven to city centre section also showed its worth. Services running through the night on Fridays and Saturdays for the month of August helped see the line clock up more than 1.2 million passenger journeys. Edinburgh Trams managing director Lea Harrison is confident there is more to come, saying: “We expect this to be the first of many records to be broken as the network continues to play a key role in developing Edinburgh’s economy and future prosperity”.
SEWAGE DEBRIS: Scottish beaches are suffering far more sewage debris problems than English ones, according to new data collected by the Marine Conservation Society. The charity found an average of 88.2 items of debris, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, per 100 metres at Scottish coastal sites, compared to an average of just 9.1 and 10.7 in England and Wales respectively. Monitoring of debris from sewage outlets into rivers, the source of most of this pollution, is almost non-existent on Scottish rivers, while it is approaching 100% coverage in England and Wales. The Water of Leith is one of the worst rivers for such pollution in Scotland, as reported by the Inquirer on August 10 and campaigners are calling for monitoring to be introduced as a matter of urgency.
LAUGHS IN LEITH: The inaugural Leith Comedy Festival is to take place next month after becoming the first event of its kind to receive National Lottery funding through Creative Scotland. The festival will stage shows and events ranging from big name stand-up shows to ‘laughter yoga’ at venues across the port district in October. Headline acts include Scottish comedy and Fringe stars Marjolein Robertson and Jamie MacDondald and there will be an emphasis on providing a platform for local performers and using local suppliers. Festival director Rosalind Romer, who has been staging events through lockdown, said: “The Leith community has been so supportive, and I believe the programme reflects the creativity and humour of Leith. They’ll be the first to tell me if it doesn’t.”
RADICAL ROAD: The future of access to the Radical Road path beneath Salisbury Crags remains frustratingly unclear five years after it was closed to the public following a rock fall. Historic Environment Scotland (HES), which manages the park, has been accused of dragging its feet after campaigners called for its reopening. An HES spokesperson said the path could not be reopened but its future is under review, adding: “There are a number of complex issues to be addressed and a combination of interventions may be required, some of which may be at significant cost. We appreciate people are keen to access this wider route within the park, however, the health and safety of visitors must remain our first priority.”
NEW SCHOOLS: Two new schools are to be built and a third one replaced to cope with the growing population of west Edinburgh after the pandemic saw the plans delayed. The council is to start statutory consultations on the projects to build a 600-pupil high school for Kirkliston on the site of the town’s existing sports centre (with publicly accessible leisure facilities being included in the school development); a new non-denominational South Queensferry primary on Builyeon Road (due to open in August 2026 or later); and a replacement St Catherine’s RC Primary in Gracemount.
CONCRETE IN SCHOOLS: Parents are being reassured that plans are in place to deal with crumbling RAAC concrete in seven schools across the Capital. Cramond Primary, Trinity Primary, Pentland Primary, Colinton Primary, Currie High School and the shared campus for Covert Primary and St Andrew’s Fox Covert RC Primary are all affected. The city council has been writing to parents to outline plans. Councillor Joan Griffiths, the city’s education, children and families convener, said: “Since the beginning of the year we’ve been carrying out ongoing and detailed assessment of our property estate looking to identify any buildings that may contain Reinforced Aerated Autoclave Concrete (RAAC). The safety of all our young people and staff in our schools is paramount and the measures we have taken reinforce this position.”
WORK DUE ON NEW HOMES: Housebuilder Cruden is set to start work on a mix of 49 affordable properties in Livingston, on behalf of Link Group. The £8.7m development will see energy-efficient homes built on a 1.2 hectare, brownfield site in Craigshill. The development at Sydney Street will provide a range of three and four storey sustainable flats. The one and two bedroomed homes will provide residents with high quality accommodation for social rental. Work starts this Autumn for completion in Summer 2025.
Warty, but cute
CANCER BREAKTHROUGH: Researchers at University of Edinburgh have made discoveries that could help more patients enjoy the benefit of immunotherapies. The scientists uncovered information about a type of immune cells which could give lung cancer patients a more accurate prognosis. The research, funded by Cancer Research UK, could help to pave the way for improved immunotherapies - powerful but expensive life-extending treatments which currently fail in 80% of cases - allowing them to work more effectively in more patients. Further research and tests are needed alongside the integration of new technologies before any application in clinical practice is possible. Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
Make sure you don’t miss Edinburgh Life Science and Biotech special in tomorrow’s Edinburgh Inquirer.
Short-term lets confusion reigns supreme
What a month it has been for the city’s self-caterers, battling a new licensing and planning regime they see as designed to drive them out of business. Perhaps the latest tactic from legislators, both local and national, is to sow ever-greater confusion.
First city council leader Cammy Day appeared to hold out a welcome olive branch to a receptive short-term let sector, offering on national radio that the council would “be supportive” of any joint effort to lobby the Scottish Government to delay the new scheme’s implementation on 1 October. It was, he said, a conversation that the council was “open to” and a decision only the Scottish Government could make.
A day later, the narrative was changing. The short-term let sector was back to square one. Angry council colleagues had clearly made feelings known, and Councillor Day was back pedalling faster than a trick cyclist. He was then forced into an apology before a full council meeting, where an SNP member described him as “Calamity” Day. It is a sign of the tortuous juggling act the council leader has to perform as he tries to marshal support for his minority Labour administration.
Meantime, Scotland’s normally genteel B&B sector has also pleaded directly to First Minister Humza Yousaf. They have asked for a pause to allow greater consideration of the new rules, which they believe could put them out of business. The Scottish Bed & Breakfast Association said their research shows 61% of our national B&Bs are considering closing. The First Minister insisted the Scottish Government would “continue to work with the sector” while he refused to consider a pause.
Not everyone at Holyrood agrees. A letter to the First Minister from a cross-party group of 37 MSPs called for a pause to the roll-out of legislation, citing the fact that, at that time, 97% of all types of holiday lets had not yet applied.
Meantime, a Judicial Review brought by the sector against City of Edinburgh Council’s licensing policy ended with a Court of Session judge, Lord Braid, finding significant tracts “unlawful” and forced the council into removing large sections.
A second Judicial Review is now on the horizon, a date still to be confirmed, when the operators will focus on the retrospective application of planning law in the policy being used by the council.
Scotland’s wider hospitality and tourism industry has made its views known - the law of unintended consequences will, they maintain, have a profound and detrimental impact on one of Scotland’s most important, and most fragile, sectors. If only someone would offer an olive branch to get people talking…
ON TRACK? Last week’s call by campaigners to have a mainline station opened at the town of Winchburgh has re-opened the debate about the rail networks’s future in and around net zero Edinburgh. Winchburgh Developments, which has been involved in the master plan for the West Lothian village’s expansion, says a station would mean 1,658 fewer journey every day. It raises the wider question of what next for the Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway - known as The South Sub - which is used for freight trains from Haymarket, via Craiglockhart, Newington, Duddingston and Craigmillar, Portobello and Waverley. The council is currently involved with a feasibility study on the possibilities of re-opening the line to local passenger traffic, which was closed in September 1962. However, the track is not electrified and the cost of re-instatement and possible passenger numbers will be a factor.
AWAITING THE BUSINESS ‘RESET’: Edinburgh business owners and leaders will be waiting to hear tomorrow how First Minister Humza Yousaf plans to ‘reset’ his party’s relationship with business. In spite of an estimated 25,000 SNP supporters marching through the Capital on Saturday, there remains scepticism among the city’s SME business and entrepreneurial community, and among the larger corporates, about how the Scottish Government can do more to encourage innovation, economic growth in conjunction with the green agenda and the justice transition to zero carbon.
Tomorrow Mr Yousaf is expected to announce a series of initiatives in his Programme for Government, including piloting a four-day working week for parts of the public sector. With poor levels of productivity a major issue for growth, it will be interesting to see if shorter working weeks improve wellbeing can make more public services more efficient. Other expected initiatives include a reform of council tax. The Scottish Government is consulting on a structural increases in domestic bills for Band E to H homes of between 7.5% and 22.5%. This will be on top of a council-set rises of 5%. Edinburgh has a large number of homes in the E to H bracket, currently paying £2,516.01 per year for council and water and sewerage in Band E, and up to £4,551.42 on Band H.
The SNP’s coalition partner, the Green Party, have stated they are ‘anti-growth’ and want to move to a ban on any further development of Scotland’s remaining oil and gas field resources. Mr Yousaf told the rally in Edinburgh. “Let me tell you, the people of this country are not suffering from a cost of living crisis, they’re suffering from a cost of the Union crisis”. He said that Scotland has suffered because of Brexit, something the Scottish public did not vote for.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar set out his plans, saying his party is “unashamedly a pro-business and pro-growth party” determined to build economic growth in Scotland. He announced a board of independent advisers tasked with providing impartial advice to Sarwar and Edinburgh MSP and spokesperson Daniel Johnson. The members include: Liz Cameron, the CEO of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce; Sandy Begbie, chief executive of Scottish Financial Enterprise; Mary McGowne, of The Vine PR; Fran Hegyi, chief executive of Edinburgh International Festival; entrepreneur Mike Soutar; Lord Willie Haughey; quarry owner and rock band drummer Paul McManus; Bob Brannan, chairman of Walkers Shortbread, and trade union chief Karen Whitefield. “With the vast powers that Holyrood has and during a cost-of-living crisis – and a cost of doing business crisis – it’s vital that we debate how to deliver economic growth,” said Mr Sarwar.
INDEPENDENT GPs EXPAND: An independent medical practice in Edinburgh has celebrated its 20th anniversary by expanding into a second location in the city. After two decades of providing private healthcare to residents from their Dean Village premises, YourGP has expanded to 53 Dundas Street. The new practice features four treatment rooms and will offer a full range of services - appointments, comprehensive health screening, cosmetic treatments, and sexual health services.
STREETS AHEAD: A new name for financial planning, Seven Street Wealth, has kicked off in Edinburgh’s Alva Street. Chiene + Tait Financial Planning has been acquired by its management team, led by directors Mark Dobson and Gordon Birrell. The business was established in 2000 as an independent sister company of Chiene + Tait LLP and has a presence in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, and London. Mark and Gordon will take full ownership of Seven Street Wealth from exiting shareholders Chiene + Tait LLP Mark Dobson said: “There are fewer independent financial advisory firms in the market, due to consolidation in our sector and Seven Street Wealth prides itself on being privately owned.” Gordon Birrell added: “The success of the buy-out is testament to what we have built over the past decade, our loyal client base and talented team gives us the perfect platform to evolve and grow even further."
ART HOUSE: One of the city’s most intimate and beloved grassroots arts festivals sees 81 artists open up their homes over the course of one weekend in the Abbeyhill Colonies, off the top of Easter Road. The artists display their work in their own front rooms or gardens with a diverse range of beautiful art from ceramics and knitting to water colours and jewellery. This year is the 18th Colony of Artists Art Festival and it now boasts its own beer. The Campervan Brewery sells a specially-made Colony of Artists beer named Upper and Lower after the two types of Colony houses. There will be a pop-up bar, food and live music, as well as for the first time a junior artists display. The Colony of Artists, 16-17 September, 11am-6pm.
KING AND QUEENS: You might say there is a ‘Royal’ theme to two of the musical highlights of the next week or so, although the contrast in style could hardly be more complete. The sensational Christine and the Queens play the Usher Hall on Friday, while the King and I opens at The Playhouse next Tuesday. Shall we dance, anyone? (Christine and the Queens, Usher Hall, 9 September. The King and I, Edinburgh Playhouse, 12-16 September)
MOONWALK: Good luck to everyone taking part in this year’s Moonwalk on Saturday night. If you haven’t booked your place then you are too late to walk the half or full marathon on a route starting from Holyrood Park, but you can look out for the walkers and give them a cheer - and even better donate too.
OPEN DOORS: Lots of old favourites and some new will be welcoming visitors for free tours as Doors Open Day comes to Midlothian on Saturday and West Lothian on Saturday and Sunday (The Edinburgh and East Lothian ones follow on 23-24 September). Highlights include the Linlithgow Canal Centre, the Wildlife Information Centre at Vogrie Country Park, the Pen Y Coe Press and Papermaking Heritage Centre in Penicuik, the National Mining Museum at Newtongrange. Check out Midlothian Doors Open Day for a particularly full programme.
QUICK BITES (AND SIPS)
TIPSY TOP: The Tipsy Midgie Whisky & Gin Drinkery in Stockbridge has been named the Best Whisky Bar in Scotland, at the Scottish Bar and Pub Awards 2023. Owner Colin Hinds celebrated a double by also winning the Whisky Guru title, presented to someone who has a great knowledge of whisky and is a passionate advocate for our national drink and its craft. Hinds says: "I'm thrilled, it means so much to me and the whole team, and it’s quite an accolade considering we only opened in June last year." Hinds indulged with a dram or two of the Deanston Banyuls Cask and a 40-year-old Benromach to celebrate at the Double Tree Hilton Glasgow. Every Sunday the Tipsy Midgie holds a non-ticketed Exploration Flight where Colin showcases a chosen distillery with three drams for £10.
SOME EXTRA DIARY DATES FOR YOU
The Edinburgh Kiltwalk takes place on Sunday 17 September and a record number – 568 at the moment – number of charities are set to benefit as a result. Among them are some prominent local / regional charities including Hibernian Community Foundation and Edinburgh Children’s Hospital.
The flat horse racing season draws to a close over the next few weeks. But not before Musselburgh Racecourse’s Summer Finale Raceday on Saturday 16 September, while the Gold Cup Raceday is on Sunday 17 September. The Scottish Flat Season Finale at Musselburgh is on Monday 16 October.
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