The curtain-raiser for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations is to be made all-ticket for the first time in order to ease crowd congestion.
All participants in the annual torchlight procession from the Old Town to Calton Hill will need to wear a wristband as part of an overhaul of the event, which has grown hugely in popularity in recent years.
Up to 60,000 people have turned out, including up to 10,000 torchbearers, with the overall audience up to three times the size it was in the early years of the event.
However, the volume of people attempting to follow the parade, staged on December 30 for the past few years, has meant it has taken more than an hour for the crowds taking part to travel to Regent Road.
Barriers were introduced along the parade route last year in an effort to improve the safety of the event, which secures global publicity for Edinburgh in the run-up to Hogmanay celebrations being held around the world.
Some of the proceeds from the torchlight event go towards the international children’s charity Unicef, which benefited to the tune of £50,000 from last year’s celebration.
But organisers of the winter festivities have admitted the sale of the £3 wristbands will also go towards meeting the rising costs of staging the event, which now attracts crowds almost as big as the street party on Hogmanay.
They have now set a 30,000 limit on the parade, but have insisted the wristband system will mean friends and relatives of torchbearers – who have to pay £12 a head this year – will be able to take part as long as they buy a wristband. Thousands of onlookers will be able to gather as normal on the pavement along the parade route, which includes George IV Bridge, The Mound, Princes Street, Waterloo Place and Regent Road.
The torchlight procession, which climaxes with a bonfire and fireworks display on Calton Hill, has been the opening event of the city’s Hogmanay festival since it was instigated in 1993-4.
The street party has been an all-ticket even since the 1996-7 festivities, which were marred when hundreds of people were injured during crushes in the run-up to the bells. Charges were introduced for street party tickets 12 years ago, but the cost of them has since risen from just £2.50 to £25.
Al Thomson, director of festival producers Unique Events, said: “The torchlight procession has been running since the very first Hogmanay festival, so this is the 24th year. It always used to attract around 10,000-15,000 people, but has just been getting bigger and bigger over the last five years or so.
“If it is going to get to a point when it actually becomes unenjoyable or we have to turn people away who come to take part, the natural thing for us to do is introduce a system to manage those numbers so we know how many people are coming.
“The number of torchbearers has gone up by several thousand in the last few years, but 10,000 is really the event at a peak.
“What we’ve found is that the balance between spectators and participants has kind of shifted. Last year was the first where we found there were less people spectating and more people participating. We want to try to address that so we can manage the procession itself and bring people back to the various viewing spaces to watch the event.
“The wristbands are really for people accompanying the torchbearers. You get one when you buy a torch and can add other wristbands onto that.
“What we have found in recent years is that people have had a torch between three or four people. People will obviously still be able to watch the procession and the fireworks, but they won’t be able to join the parade without a wristband.
“We actually barriered the whole route from George IV Bridge to Calton Hill for the first time last year, but it took an hour and 15 minutes for the whole parade to get there. We can’t start the fireworks until everyone is down on Princes Street.”
Mr Thomson said the costs of staging the event had risen in line with the size of the audience it had attracted.
He added: “Anything that is brought in as an income-generator can only enhance the event and make the experience better for everyone.”