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Where old meets new

Richard Higgins explores the evolution of George Street, Edinburgh and the eastward focus of activity.

Edinburgh’s George street has seen a renaissance over the past 20 years, with the redevelopment of the traditional new Town squares which bookend it – St Andrew Square and Charlotte Square.

With Galbraith HQ on George Street, the commercial team has been well positioned to watch and be involved in the fascinating evolution of this historic core of the New Town. 

Anchoring the east end of George Street, St Andrew Square has undergone a series of big changes since the development of Harvey Nichols and multrees Walk and the eastern end has been transformed into a luxury development enjoyed by many. 

The south side of the square has seen significant redevelopment from Aberdeen Standard Investments, bringing new leisure and restaurant facilities to the quarter, including Dishoom, The Ivy and others. Standard Life Investments themselves have taken occupation of the 45,000 sq ft upper floors of the south side of St Andrew Square. Although not a large move for them, it reinforces the general shift eastwards of the office core in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, alongside the traditional office occupiers of St Andrew Square, the Chris Stewart Group is developing The Edinburgh Grand, a substantial apartment building with space for bars, restaurants and shops within the historic Royal Bank of Scotland building. In addition, the square’s formerly private gardens are now open to the public, hosting various city events at seasonal festival times, and with the tram passing through the square it all adds to the atmosphere of a vibrant and active area within this prestigious part of the city. 

At the western end of George Street, Charlotte Square has retained its traditional charm and feel, with Fordell Estates having acquired 21 properties and refurbished and redeveloped a good proportion of the square into top quality grade A office accommodation. The private gardens remain at the heart and host the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival. At 6 Charlotte Square sits the official residence of the First minister, Bute House, which is also undergoing significant refurbishment.

The award-winning 2013 redevelopment of the south side of Charlotte Square by Corran Properties Ltd further highlights the dichotomy of the two squares. Where the refined, elegant character and traditional nature of Charlotte Square is retained, it has been brought into the modern era with sympathetic refurbishment and development. 

By contrast St Andrew Square has repositioned itself around restaurants, retail and mixed use. Looking over the last two decades or so, we see a considerable shift from the traditional Edinburgh banking and insurance towards more retail and leisure entertainment. 

The two squares both blend the old and new, and each is equally important in maintaining Edinburgh’s status as a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the UK’s top tourist destinations, as well as consistently being noted as the best city in the UK in which to live and work. 

The vibrancy of the two squares continues along the connecting George Street, which in recent years has welcomed a resurgence of traditional and up-market retailing outlets together with restaurants, bars and office accommodation. It has become a place where classy cocktail bars and top-end high street favourites have become established, making it a popular spot for shopping, eating and drinking; a meeting place for many professionals with the existing building stock continuing to be adaptive to meet the market demands. 

The next phase for George Street is presently in consultation with local business and the wider city, but it will retain its historic and important place in the heart of the city.

Slightly further afield, the office core has redeveloped into Waverley Gate and many new office buildings. St Andrew Square linking via multrees Walk to the new St James’s Centre with its 1970s brutalist concrete development under redevelopment will provide modern shopping facilities with additional offices, hotel and other uses. We look forward to being involved in and watching the next stages of evolution.