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As I See It

Retail reboot, fair game in Scone; airport battle

Terry MurdenIs Edinburgh a difficult city in which to invest?

The St James redevelopment finally got the go ahead last week after a lengthy debate about the choice of materials.

This is, after all, an enormous development that will feature hugely in Edinburgh’s future on so many levels. It will re-shape shopping patterns, tilting the retail axis to the east end and helping to revitalise the top of Leith Walk and beyond.

Following the planning committee’s approval for the £850m scheme to go ahead there were unsourced reports that John Lewis, the anchor tenant, was unhappy and would find it difficult to trade during the four year rebuilding of the centre. The comments seem quite damning, but the developer TH Real Estate and the council seem not too concerned, passing them off as those typical in the negotiating process of a CPO which, presumably, includes pressure for a reduced rates bill.

The scheme has been on the drawing board since 2009 and it would seem a little late in the day for a company the size of John Lewis not to have noticed what it involved. It would be most surprising if its concerns were to lead to it pulling out as some have claimed.

Last week’s debate in the City Chambers threw up a few other interesting remarks, not least from Councillor Frank Ross who claimed, curiously and without elaboration, that the project had to go ahead because “there is a hint from other developers that Edinburgh is seen as a very difficult place to do business and invest in. Further delay to this iconic project is only going to enhance and reinforce that message that Edinburgh doesn’t want investment.”

Convener Ian Perry didn’t seem too impressed by these damning statements from the city’s advocate for economic development, saying they belonged in another debate. Even so, Councillor Ross seems to have heard something on the investment grapevine.

Overshopped and not over here

Work on extending Glasgow’s premier shopping centre Buchanan Galleries has been halted at the eleventh hour, ostensibly because of the adverse impact that improvements to the neighbouring Queen Street station will have on the £390 million scheme.

That’s the reason given. But there are sneaking suspicions that there is more to this decision. After all, the Queen St redevelopment has been on the cards for some time, certainly before councillors approved the shopping centre plan in February.

At the time, the council hailed the unlocking of £300m of private sector investment and the creation of 1,500 jobs.

Could it be that owner Land Securities has noted reports saying Britain is over-shopped and that online growth in retail could leave many of the new units unoccupied?

Of course, it would not be in its interests to admit this. It has to persuade property agents to sell leases to retailers and the last thing they want to hear is that there are not enough bricks and mortar shoppers to go around.

Yet there were significant pre-lets for the Buchanan Galleries extension to M&S and Next, as well as a ten-screen cinema to Showcase Cinema de Lux.

Land Securities said in a statement that it will continue to work on its plans to extend Buchanan Galleries, as Network Rail delivers the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme over the next 18 months.

The city council says: “Land Securities has assured us it is reconfiguring its plans to allow the expansion to progress.”

For “reconfiguring” read “smaller”.

Enterprise thrives as sun shines on Scone

Driving through torrential rain to the Scottish Game Fair yesterday felt like one of those journeys that was bound to end in disappointment. After all, it was abandoned for a day four years ago when the ground became unsafe and the weather in the early part of yesterday was terrible.

But this was more than a social visit, involving some unofficial duties, and so in spite of the increasingy treacherous road conditions there was no excuse for turning back.

Even as the gates opened around 9.30 the walkways were flooded and threatened to make the infamous Glastonbury mud look like a mere puddle.

Yet, the local country folk were undeterred and by mid afternoon there was sunshine on Scone.

Clearly shining were the scores of small businesses, many of them one-man band craft operations and hobbies-cum-enterprises that make up a substantial and largely overlooked section of the economy.

Figures recently revealed that half of Scotland’s workforce is self-employed and touring the marquees at fairs such as this shows exactly what they are doing: from gunmakers to milliners, the mix is as varied as it is vibrant.

A report and pictures of the event appear in the Enterprise section

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

After three years and countless millions spent on research, Sir Howard Davies’s commission on airport runway expansion came down in favour of Heathrow…er… unless Gatwick is a better choice.

Yes, it took three years to tell us that either one or the other might be the best bet for expansion.

Excellent. The taxpayer will be so glad that the brightest minds were asked to investigate and came up with a solution that one of the baggage handlers could have recommended.

This is the mother of all buck-passing. Ministers will have to make a decision in the autumn and are still left wondering which is the better option. Maybe both should be allowed to build extra runway capacity and let them fight for the extra business.

One other unpalatable aside was the “support” offered by regional airports for one or the other candidate. Edinburgh expressed its disappointment at the decision while Glasgow and Aberdeen were delighted. Funny that. Edinburgh was sold by Heathrow’s former owner to the owner of Gatwick, while Glasgow and Aberdeen were sold to Ferrovial which retains a 25% stake in Heathrow Airport Holdings.

It was disappointing that the PR teams in both camps felt obliged to spin their predictable loyalties, though the bigger dismay was that so many in the media fell for it.








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