Shops plan to defy economic crisis


WORK on the biggest retail development in Edinburgh city centre since the opening of Harvey Nichols is set to get under way within weeks, The Scotsman has learned.

Despite the impact of the economic downturn, the Australian-owned developer Stockland has confirmed that demolition work at a huge site on St Andrew Square will begin in the new year.

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Two parades of shops are to be created by either knocking down or refurbishing several buildings previously home to the headquarters of Scottish Provident, which have been lying empty for several years. The 50 million development is due for completion in the summer of 2011, well before the nearby St James Quarter is scheduled to be finished.

Property experts in Edinburgh say the start of work on the scheme is crucial, because it is likely to be one of the few developments due for completion in the city centre in 2011.

It is hoped there will still be significant demand from retailers, despite the economic downturn, with the site having the added benefit of overlooking St Andrew Square Gardens, which were opened to the public earlier this year.

No major new retail space has been created in Edinburgh since the unveiling of the Harvey Nichols store on St Andrew Square, and the adjacent Multrees Walk, in 2002.

The developers of the nearby St James scheme have only just submitted their first planning application for the vast site, with demolition not due until 2011.

Planning permission for the new St Andrew Square scheme was approved by the city council in March 2007.

It is hoped between eight and ten two- to three-storey shops will be created, along with office space on the upper floors, and several rooftop apartments.

A spokeswoman for Stockland said yesterday:

"Works have started in preparation for demolition early next year, and we are in the tender process for our main construction contractors, with a site start anticipated in the summer of 2009."

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Tom Buchanan, economic development leader on City of Edinburgh Council, said: "This is fantastic news, especially in the current economic climate. The continued commitment and investment in this development sends an extremely positive message to businesses across the city."

Cameron Stott, director of the property firm Jones Lang LaSalle in Edinburgh, said: "It's a very important development for Edinburgh, because it's going to be completed well before the new St James Quarter.

"Most research suggests the economic downturn is going to continue through most of next year and possibly into 2010, but this scheme will ensure there is a good supply of retail and office space in the pipeline."