Edinburgh being ‘destroyed’ by festivals: Cockburn Association

St Andrew Square has been churned into mud during the 2014/15 Edinburgh Christmas/Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Rutherford

St Andrew Square has been churned into mud during the 2014/15 Edinburgh Christmas/Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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EDINBURGH city centre is being “destroyed” by a growing trend for handing over public spaces for festivals and events, according to the city’s long-running heritage watchdog.

And the Cockburn Association, which has been monitoring the historic heart of the Capital since 1875, launched an outspoken attack on “dumbed down” cultural events.

It called for public funding to be cut for events run by commercial operators, accusing them of damaging the landscape while “presumably making a healthy profit”.

It wants an end to “tacky installations” in public places such as the Royal Mile and St Andrew Square, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in recent years during the summer and winter festivals and are worth £261 million to the economy.

The Cockburn Association has spoken out after it emerged festival organisers were demanding a better clean-up of the city during events.

They have asked for a series of “intensive care” measures to help ensure Edinburgh remains ahead of international rivals hosting major events.

However, Cockburn director Marion Williams said the month of August, when the bulk of the city’s festivals are held, had become “a love it or hate it time for residents” and said events staged over Christmas were “hardly culturally enhancing”.

She said: “Edinburgh is, like other capital cities, a great place to host festivals. We welcome high-quality, culturally enhancing events that are accessible to residents, folk who work in the city and those who visit. We are sad to see a dumbing down in the quality that is currently offered.

“If the council wants to maintain Edinburgh’s position as a festival city it must up its game in terms of quality and inclusivity and not just head for the lowest denominator, where cheap accommodation, cheap booze and low-quality attractions are all they have to offer.

“This is a fantastically beautiful city that could sell itself if they concentrated on keeping it clean and applied the art of placemaking rather than place destroying.”

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “We would like to see greater engagement between the festivals and the city’s residential population. A lot of what has happened in the city centre recently has been fairly experimental, to understand what the limits are and test those limits.

“It’s important to understand what can and can’t be done, and learn from that.

“As soon as you start running events which are ticketed it makes public places less open to the rest of the world. There is a balance around that which is about recognising that the streets belong to the people.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We would be interested in gaining a better understanding of the Cockburn Association’s concerns as our last residents survey suggests the vast majority take great pride in the festivals and the value they provide to Edinburgh.”