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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/New research highlights threats facing Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

New research highlights threats facing Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

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25th July 2019

Rebecca Leary

New research published today by Edinburgh World Heritage concerning the authenticity of the Royal Mile reveals the threats and opportunities facing the historic thoroughfare in the heart of the Old Town. The research shows that the appeal of the famous succession of five separate streets is due to the historic character of its buildings,architecture, and streets, but that much of its local character is being lost, and that the ubiquitous gift and souvenir shops which line the Royal Mile are undermining its authenticity.

Research Highlights:

  • The historic buildings, Scottish architecture, setted streets, wynds and closes, are seen by visitors and residents as authentic, and are at the core of what makes the area so attractive.
  • However, the Royal Mile is losing its local character. The research shows that visitors associate the area with ‘being surrounded by foreigners’ more than ‘hearing local Scottish accents’.
  • The retail sector, more specifically the gift and souvenir shops, are not seen as authentic by visitors. Additionally, discussions with shop assistants reveal that shoppers’ desire to purchase high-quality Scottish products is to some extent being frustrated, both by shops selling lower-quality mass produced items, most of which are made outside of Scotland, as well as by misleading sales claims.
  • Visitors from different countries react in different ways. Italian and Scottish visitors in particular did not find the gift shops authentic. However, Chinese visitors were more troubled by traffic congestion, inappropriate building works and new development in and around the Royal Mile as well as rubbish on the street.

Edinburgh World Heritage conclude the report with a wide-ranging series of recommendations including calls to strengthen efforts to conserve key buildings through grants and expert support. Specifically, the charity calls out the future Transient Visitor Levy as a potential new source of funding to help repair and conserve buildings and streets requiring repair, or those damaged by climate change or other factors.

Other measures recommended include: strengthening and giving a more prominent voice to local communities in deciding the future of the Royal Mile, and introducing a voluntary ‘Made in Scotland’scheme to help support local manufacturers. Clamping down on misleading sales techniques and claims is also recommended, as well as a more proactive approach from the city in shaping the future retail character of the street in the way some other European cities have done.

Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage commented: ‘The Royal Mile is one of the most celebrated urban thoroughfares to be found anywhere in the world. This research has confirmed that the extraordinary historic environment of the area is central to its appeal and must be conserved and enhanced. The findings have also confirmed what many of us have suspected: that the area risks becoming a tourist ghetto, and that the retail environment is to some extent detracting from the appeal of the Royal Mile. We look forward to working with our partners on a range of actions to secure the long-term success and resiliency of the street.’

Simon Cotton, Managing Director of Johnstons of Elgin added: ‘The Royal Mile is a crucial market place for the Scottish textile industry. We welcome the findings of this research, in particular recommendations to better meet the needs of visitors who want to buy high-quality products manufactured in Scotland, and to address misleading sales approaches. It’s in all our interests to ensure that the Royal Mile remains an outstanding visitor attraction’.

Edinburgh’s Planning Convener, Cllr Neil Gardiner, said: “We all share an ambition to protect and enhance the Old Town’s heritage and this timely piece of research underlines the importance of the Royal Mile –both as a distinctive place to visit and a unique area to live or work.

“Healthy high streets need new businesses to open and new residents to move in and, to encourage this, the Council is developing plans to reduce the dominance of car traffic as well as seeking powers to control short-term lets. This should help the Royal Mile to be even more people and environmentally friendly, strengthening residential communities and a further enhanced pedestrian friendly public realm. We would also support a voluntary ‘Made in Scotland’ authentication scheme for businesses selling genuine Scottish products, as well as initiatives to widen the range of goods on offer including links to Edinburgh designers and craftspeople. Edinburgh World Heritage itself leases out a gift shop within the Tron which promotes local producers.

“The built landscape of the Royal Mile is like no other and is of crucial importance to Edinburgh’s identity. Not all of the ideas raised by this report will be immediately feasible but others will and I’m glad to see such a debate being had. It is in all of our interests to see the Royal Mile keep and enhance its authenticity and for the area to meet the needs of current and future residents as well as visitors.”

Read the full report: Perceived authenticity of the Royal Mile.

Image credit: Tom Duffin.