Parking crisis 'threat to shops'
A LACK of parking spaces in Edinburgh's West End is driving the area's unique collection of upmarket shops and small boutiques out of business, it was claimed today.
The council was today urged to build a new car park in the city centre, possibly underground in Melville Street, to protect the Capital's traders.
The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce (ECC) said the West End's Bohemian shopping quarter has the potential to rival London's Notting Hill.
But, with more than half a dozen shops in the area closing in the last year, there are fears that it could instead become a ghost town.
Motorists from the Capital, as well as visitors from other parts of Scotland, are shunning the area, because there are no large car parks closer than Morrison Street or Castle Terrace.
The Chamber of Commerce, which has told transport chiefs about its concerns, was today backed by the West End Traders' Association.
And local businesses said takings are down by up to 50 per cent in the area, with many more shops set to close this year.
Graham Bell, a spokesman for the ECC, said: "Last year, we persuaded the council that cars are an important mix in how to make a city centre successful.
"There have been a number of key changes, such as extending the maximum waiting times and these have benefited shops, particularly in the East End.
"But Edinburgh is unique in that it has a fantastic mix of shops, with some wonderful small boutique-like shops in the West End. This makes the city an unrivalled shopping experience, but we are in danger of losing that unless something can be done to boost parking in the West End.
"Without drastic action to bring motorists to this part of town, we will lose these small shops and Edinburgh will be dominated by larger chain stores.
We believe that a new car park development in the West End is needed to fulfil demand from visitors to the city from the north and west."
The West End was hit particularly hard by the council's controversial traffic management shake-up, which proved so unpopular that councillors ordered officials to reverse some of the changes.
In recent months, a number of businesses have closed their doors, including Di Rollo's art gallery, Simon's Sandwiches, the Klick photography shop and the Granary bar and café. Jeweller Joe Goodwin, whose antiques business has operated in the West End for more than 40 years, said many other shops will be forced to close soon.
"The council's policies have had a devastating effect on locally owned indigenous businesses," he said.
"All these wonderful shops in the West End will be replaced with multinational faceless chain stores unless something can be done and I blame the council 100 per cent for this."
Futuristic car parks, which lower cars into the ground and automatically park them, are currently being considered for Edinburgh, with Chambers Street favourite for a trial. But the West End Traders' Association today said Melville Street would be ideal for subterranean facilities.
Chairman Michael Apter said: "We would love to see a new car park in the West End, which would bring a definite boost for the area."
The city's transport leader Andrew Burns said: "I welcome the Chamber of Commerce's input. As with all feedback we receive, we will seriously consider their suggestions. Nothing in the strategy is set in stone, but I hope all participants keep in mind that we must balance the needs of thousands of people."