West Princes Street Gardens Impact Assessment
The brief for this work was to describe the expected impact of the proposed investment, from private sources and for public benefit, into the rejuvenation of a unique and special place, the West Princes Street Gardens, and its principal public building, the Ross Bandstand, situated right in the centre of the City of Edinburgh.
The Ross Development Trust is proposing to raise £25m to fund an ambitious programme of renovation for the Gardens. This investment will transform the Gardens as a destination within Edinburgh, while securing the tranquillity of its green landscape and its intricate heritage and preserving them as a “common good”, accessible to all.
This investment will create economic and social benefits in a number of ways. This report estimates that the investment could generate around £13m Gross Value Added during construction for Scotland and £9m for Edinburgh’s City Region (“ECR”), together with 131 Scottish and 93 ECR jobs. During operation, the plans for the Gardens could create around £5m GVA for Scotland and £4.3m for ECR, and up to 65 direct and indirect jobs.
But these figures are just the economic by-product of a Project that is fundamentally civic in nature. The Gardens are part of the city’s identity, of its brand. Nor is it just a preservation project, important as it is that the Gardens and its structures, bequeathed by previous generations, are preserved for those yet to come. This is about what significance – what “value” they have for the city, taking “value” in its broadest sense. We have estimated, for illustrative purposes, that the impact of investment on the City’s brand could be around £7m in GVA terms.
This is a good time to be thinking about the future of the Gardens. They occupy a very visible space in Edinburgh’s global “shop window”. Key elements of the Gardens are in serious need of investment. Edinburgh, meanwhile, is trying to shape its future through a City Region deal and at the same time asking its citizens what kind of a city they want in 2050.
No doubt much will change in the coming decades, but it is impossible to visualise the city centre without the West Princes Street Gardens.
The question that follows is how is these Gardens can best be enjoyed to the full by Edinburgh’s citizens and its visitors. The Gardens started life as the exclusive preserve of a few, until a far-sighted local authority assumed responsibility and turned them into a public park – a “common good”. Today they remain freely accessible and enjoyed by many, but they are below par in a number of ways, as financial pressures force difficult choices for the Council.
We need to ask what the Gardens say about Edinburgh to the outside world. Edinburgh is a city in the international spotlight, which gives it access to opportunity on a scale that is disproportionate to its size – and with that opportunity come corresponding responsibilities to continue to excel in what it can offer tourists and business visitors.
Some of the answers lie with the project that is the subject of this work. The Ross Development Trust has been formed as a new charity, with its sole purpose to rejuvenate the West Princes Street Gardens by levering in major new capital investment, to secure the legacy and build on it for generations to come.
Trying to put a value on the West Princes Street Gardens and its assets is far from easy. Equally, it is undeniable that there is a value, but described in many different ways. It might be helpful to think about it in terms of the relationship between value and meaning; if there is meaning, there is value and vice versa.
It is not the purpose of this report to assess the feasibility of the proposals. An early feasibility study was commissioned from Jura Consultants by the Trust in November 2015 and the financial and operational feasibility of the Project is subject to ongoing development as the proposals evolve.
This report describes why the Project is important, how it can make a difference and ways in which we can assess this.