Public Realm: The Grassmarket Report 4 October 2012

THE CITY OF EDINBURGH COUNCIL

Public Realm: The Grassmarket
Planning Committee
4 October 2012

1 Purpose of report
1.1 To report back on the review of the Grassmarket Public Realm Project and to
provide a progress report on proposals to enhance Rose Street.

2 Summary
2.1 A before-and-after review of the impact of public realm work in the Grassmarket
has been carried out by consultants. This concluded that the project has
delivered economic and placemaking benefits and identified a number of
lessons that could be learned and applied to future public realm projects.
2.2 A framework for bringing forward public realm enhancements along Rose
Street has been coordinated by Essential Edinburgh (EE). This aims to
reinforce Rose Street as a destination, providing an enhanced pedestrian
environment that will encourage pedestrian priority, improved linkages and
increase activity.

3 Main report
The Grassmarket

3.1 In 2007, as part of the Council’s Capital Streets programme, Scottish
Enterprise and the City of Edinburgh Council commissioned consultants to
carry out a baseline survey of the Grassmarket before any improvement work
was carried out. The construction works were completed in April 2009. A follow
up study was commissioned in 2011 which has allowed before-and-after
comparisons.

3.2 As well as looking at hard information including the number of retail units, the
study looked at the perceptions of businesses and visitors to see how people’s
views of the Grassmarket have changed over time. It also assessed the impact
of a calendar of events that was put in place following the completion of the
works.

3.3 Copies of the study are available in the Group rooms. The key findings are as
follows.

The Physical Environment
3.4 There is no doubt the physical environment has improved significantly. This
was recognised by the 2010 Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning where the
Grassmarket won the Development on the Ground category. The shift in the
balance from a car to a pedestrian dominated space has had a significant
impact in realising the potential of the Grassmarket as a key historic space in
the city centre. It was, however, considered that, in some areas of the
Grassmarket, greater attention could be given to reducing the amount of street
clutter e.g. poles, signs, commercial waste containers.
The Business Base

3.5 When the baseline survey was carried out the retail businesses in the
Grassmarket were in a fragile state with about a quarter reporting they were
less profitable than they had been three years before. About 20% expected to
move or cease trading by the start of 2010. The follow up survey shows there
has been little change in the overall number of units (132 in 2006 and 131 in
2011) but there has been a change in status or occupancy of over a third of the
business premises. The number leaving or ceasing trading has been roughly in
line with their predictions but the number of occupied premises has also
remained the same, suggesting that demand for retail space in the
Grassmarket is steady. There has been a small but noticeable shift from shops
to restaurants over the period. The results of the post completion business
survey show high levels of confidence and optimism – markedly higher than in
2006. A large majority expect some business growth in the next three years
and that they will remain in the area. This finding is all the more positive when
viewed against the background of the current economic climate.
Residents and Visitors

3.6 A survey of residents and visitors produced generally positive results although
concerns remain among residents that issues of anti-social behaviour have not
been addressed or improved by the project. It was recognised that the project
could not directly address all anti-social behaviour issues but, by extending the
hours of table and chair licenses into the evenings, the worse excesses of antisocial
behaviour have been pushed back to later hours. There is strong
agreement that the Grassmarket is a more attractive space and that it is
cleaner and better managed. There is a feeling that the area could offer more
for families and children.

3.7 An events programme ran for 14 months during 2009/2010. Its purpose was to
demonstrate the potential of the newly created public space. This received
generally positive responses from businesses and residents. Some businesses
reported that the events had made a significant contribution to their business
and most residents thought the programme was good and that the events had
improved the image of the Grassmarket. A sharp reduction in the number of
events following the conclusion of the programme means the Grassmarket is

still not an established events venue in the city and the economic benefits are
unlikely to have been sustained.

3.8 The programme of events did not have the opportunity to become established
resulting in a delay in the generation of sustainable, long term economic
impacts. The report recommends that action be taken to reinforce the success
of the Grassmarket. This should include the development of a further
programme of events; possibly managed or coordinated by the proposed
Grassmarket Business Improvement District (BID).

3.9 An assessment of the economic value of the improvements was one of the
tasks asked of the consultants. While the benefits are difficult to quantify, it is
possible to estimate the gross value added (GVA) per employee in the sectors
represented in the Grassmarket. By comparing the present situation to one
where nothing was done, it is estimated that the gross impact of the project is
£1.4 – £4million. If additionality and displacement are taken into consideration,
this comes down to £250,000 – £500,000 per year. It was anticipated that many
benefits would result from establishing the Grassmarket as a significant events
space.

Lessons Learned
3.10 While recognising that the Grassmarket has been a successful project, the
report identifies a number of lessons that can be learned from the process.
These are:
• The case for any new public realm projects should always encompass
environmental, community and economic benefits;
• The Council should engage with residents and stakeholders at every stage
of the process;
• Before work begins on designing a scheme, clear aims and objectives
should be set, underpinned by a performance framework;
• The impact of the construction phase should be minimised through
discussion and agreement with contractors and all stakeholders including
residents and businesses;
• The real work starts when construction is finished and this should be
reflected in an implementation plan;
• There should be agreed arrangements to ensure the legacy and benefits
are sustained.

3.11 In response to this, subsequent projects that the Council has initiated in the Old
Town such as the Royal Mile project and the City Centre Southern Arc have
adopted a process of targeted community engagement prior to the
development of any particular proposals. It is intended that potential future
projects in St Andrew Square, George Street and Leith Walk should recognise
these issues.

3.12 Finally, the report reinforces the significance of the public realm as an asset for
Edinburgh. It points to a compelling case for enhancing the city’s image and
reputation through improved public realm.

Rose Street report then follows

 

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