Edinburgh café culture boost as new planning guidance proposes flexibility

Princes Street café culture is one step closer thanks to new planning guidance allowing a more flexible approach to proposals for cafés, restaurants and other ‘non-retail’ venues in Edinburgh’s city centre.  Members of the City of Edinburgh Council’s Planning Committee will be asked to approve the finalised City Centre Shopping and Leisure Supplementary Guidance for submission to Scottish Ministers.

The current guidance was adopted in 2017 and guides decisions on planning applications for changes of use of retail units within defined, street-level shopping frontages including on Princes Street and the three perpendicular streets (Castle Street, Frederick Street, and Hanover Street). A review of the guidance was carried out last year and followed a workshop with industry bodies, business representatives and other stakeholders, helping to inform revised proposals, which were subject to public consultation in August and September.

Updates to the guidance respond to changing circumstances both locally and nationally, such as a trend towards online retailing as well as Edinburgh City Centre Transformation (ECCT), which outlines a programme for a vibrant and people-focused capital centre. Proposed changes aim to make the guidance more flexible, ensuring a healthy balance of uses in the city centre to maintain its vitality, viability and to encourage footfall.

Planning Convener, Councillor Neil Gardiner, said, “Edinburgh’s city centre is unique in its combination of beautiful built heritage, world-famous attractions and retail, and we want to make sure that we maintain this diversity and vibrancy as the Capital develops.

“Our vision is for a welcoming, relaxing and people-friendly environment and under City Centre Transformation we’re already making moves toward creating this in the heart of Edinburgh.

“Changes to the Supplementary Guidance, which received broad support as part of our recent public consultation, will support this, while recognising changing trends amongst shoppers and other people who spend time in the city centre, to ensure a healthy balance of uses on key city centre streets.”

Supplementary guidance exists for all of Edinburgh’s town centres and is tailored to suit each centre’s individual circumstances. The city centre retail core extends from Shandwick Place in the west to the new Edinburgh St James in the east, Princes Street in the south to George Street in the north.

There is currently a mix of uses for units in the centre, though shops with direct access to the street comprise the largest proportion – 57%. Cafes and restaurants make up 18% while 7% of units are occupied by professional or financial services and 9% by businesses which don’t fit a specific class, such as betting shops, pubs or takeaways.

In light of changing habits and priorities, it is considered beneficial to allow shops to change to other uses to achieve a diverse, thriving and welcoming city, allowing complementary uses that support the main shopping function and encourage use into the evening.

If agreed by Planning Committee, the Supplementary Guidance, which forms part of the Statutory Development Plan, will be submitted to Scottish Ministers for approval, following which it will be formally adopted.

Read the full report, Supplementary Guidance: City Centre Shopping and Leisure, on the Council website.


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