Locals stand up against city centre take-aways

City centre residents have voiced concerns over the rising number of fast food outlets in the historic Old Town.

Locals fear the increase in eateries on the Royal Mile, Grassmarket and surrounding streets is diminishing quality, independent retail in the area.

They are now calling on the council to toughen up planning policies set to protect the Old Town as a space for shopping.

Julie Logan, chair of the Old Town Community Council, thinks the drive for visitors is partly to blame. “There’s a belief that in order to promote tourism you need to provide entertainment, which includes pubs, clubs and cafés,” she said.

“But it’s not healthy for the local economy in terms of attracting new business.

“If we lose all the retail units the value of the area is decreased and there’s very little we can do. Once you lose the offer of shopping it’s very bad for the wellbeing of the Old Town.”

While the council’s planning department has in place policies to protect streets like Jeffrey Street, the Canongate and St Mary’s Street as designated shopping areas, Ms Logan believes they should adopt a stricter attitude.

“Policies could be applied a bit tighter. They just don’t seem to take any notice.

“What we have been asking the council to do is take a more enlightened view because they actually own a lot of the retail properties.

“Even if the retailer is paying less rent than a food outlet, they should consider whether they are going to contribute something to the area.”

In response, the council claim planning decisions can also be influenced by the additional problem of empty properties.

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: “There are specific guidelines in place which dictate the usage in an area which the planning committee adhere to.

“But if a unit has lain empty for months or years and an alternative use can be suggested to the planning committee there may be an exception.”

Kerry Morrison, employee at Oink, a Victoria Street shop specialising in hog roasts, mainly selling rolls for takeaway, agreed, saying: “There are shops all around here that are empty, so it shouldn’t matter if they want to open one as a chip shop – at least it’s open.”

Jane McCrorie, owner of jewellery boutique Rene Walrus on St Mary’s Street, added: “I think we could do with more retail and more food places as well. I think it’s more quality that’s actually lacking in the Old Town.

“I don’t have a problem in terms of the amount of food places though.”

But Neil Doig, who owns men’s clothing shop State of Mind, also on St Mary’s Street, fears the rise in eateries could cost his business.

“It’s a big worry for me, not knowing what was going to be next door. There are always rumours that there’s going to be a fast food restaurant or another takeaway,” he said.

“There just aren’t enough young shops in this part of town.”

The ongoing issue adds to the community’s continuing battle against ‘tartan tat’ shops threatening to take over the popular tourist destination.

The high incidence of Scottish souvenir stores selling cheap kilts, sportswear and keepsakes has angered individuals and neighbouring shop-owners who believe they lower the tone of the area.

A consultation on proposals to improve the retail environment in the city centre is due to take place next week, following a motion to the council by local councillor David Beckett.

Participants will address public concern over reduction in retail quality, particularly in Princes Street and the Royal Mile.