Shoppers hopes fading

St James poised to miss pre-Christmas opening target

The project is one of the biggest in the UK

Edinburgh’s £1 billion shopping development looks certain to miss its pre-Christmas opening target because of the continuing coronavirus lockdown.

The developer of the 1.7 million sq ft St James Centre, one of the largest private sector regeneration projects in the UK, had planned to have the first phase of the precinct open for business in October in time to add some festive sparkle to the city.

But that looks a forlorn hope as construction sites in Scotland remain firmly closed with no sign of work resuming until at least the middle of May.

The centre project includes 850,000 sq ft of retail space, anchored by John Lewis. A number of retailers have agreed leases, including some which are new to Scotland.

St James Centre Square

Unloved: brutal offices on the site stood empty for years (pic: Terry Murden)

H&M, Russell & Bromley, JD Sports, Breitling, Omega, Pandora and Goldsmiths are among those agreeing leases. & Other Stories, part of the H&M group, will open its first store in Scotland.

Anticipation has been building that they would provide a much-needed boost to a retail sector struggling with falling footfall and sales. Laing O’Rourke is the construction partner.

Martin Perry, director of development at Edinburgh St James, declined to say whether or not the project would meet its deadline, which suggested a lack of confidence in it doing so.

“In line with the Scottish Government’s policy and in agreement with our contractor, the Edinburgh St James site remains closed,” he said in response to questions from Daily Business.

“Working with our contractor, we will continue to review our closure and likely timescales in line with UK, Scottish and local government policies​.

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“The team is continuing to work with its partners throughout this period to bring forward non-construction elements of the project.

“Due to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, we do not yet know the full impact on the construction programme. We do have contingency in place for potential delays in construction and we are working closely with our contractors to revise our programme.”​

Asked about the situation with those who have signed leases and the prospects for signing up more tenants, he said: “We are in close discussions with all of our retail and leisure operators that will be joining the Edinburgh St James line up.

“Whilst the current situation is unprecedented, our conversations have been constructive as we navigate difficult times. This also relates to the numerous deals we have in the pipeline.”

Last weekend City Council leader Adam McVey dismissed suggestions that the tram extension to Newhaven would be shelved despite the impact of the shutdown on the council’s budget.

There will be a massive loss of income for the city from the cancellation of the Festival and a number of other big earning events.

Hopes were resting on a surge of local business activity and the arrival of ‘staycationers’ in the second half of the year, with some clinging to the possibility of running a scaled down Festival.

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