Council to ‘rent’ city centre streets and squares

Hunter Square is one of the areas of public space that is under-used and to be rented out by Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Jane Barlow

Hunter Square is one of the areas of public space that is under-used and to be rented out by Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Jane Barlow

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STREETS and squares in the city centre are set to be “put up for rent” under plans aimed at revitalising them through a “rolling programme” of shows, markets and other events.

Castle Street has been selected to trial the approach after city leaders found it was underused despite being partly pedestrianised in a £2 million revamp.

It is hoped a new “manifesto” will make the street more successful by providing clarity on what sort of event is acceptable and how often gatherings can take place.

The pilot could be rolled out to other city centre zones, with areas such as Hunter Square, next to Tron Kirk, and McCrae Place, in front of the Usher Hall, believed to be among those in line for inclusion.

Edinburgh will also be benchmarked against cities across the UK amid moves to draw up a list of rent charges.

Glasgow City Council’s current scheme requires organisers to pay nearly £1100 a day for events held in pedestrian precincts which are likely to draw crowds of at least 2000.

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the city centre improvement organisation, welcomed the trial and said Castle Street could host events similar to those which take place at St Andrew Square – now a year-round venue for art, film, food and festival shows.

He said: “We are very supportive of the use of Castle Street as a public space and we will work closely with the council during the trial period.

“And post-trial, we would like to be the lead body running Castle Street – very much as we do with St Andrew Square. We would envisage it perhaps being similar to St Andrew Square – concerts, shows and exhibitions – but on a smaller scale.

“It’s a much narrower, smaller space, and you would have to put on events suitable for that space.”

Amid a wider public consultation, residents, businesses and other interested parties are due to hold a series of meetings on the Castle Street pilot as they bid to thrash out key details such as hours and frequency of use.

Political figures said the scheme could boost the entire city centre.

Councillor Joanna Mowat, Conservative member for the city centre, said: “If you’re going to have a rolling programme of events you also have to commit management and resources. But I think it would be great to have events going on in Castle Street, and the type of event happening in St Andrew Square could be a very good fit.

“There’s also a huge advantage in that there’s no grass, so it cannot be trashed. Spreading the events so they draw people towards the West End could be a huge boon – we need to spread the activity out.”

City leaders stressed that the scheme was also aimed at protecting against excessive and inappropriate use, with rental income set to be reinvested in civic spaces.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport and environment leader, said: “The council doesn’t currently charge rent for events held in public spaces like these but we are looking to get people’s views on the principle of charging as part of the consultation on the Public Spaces Manifesto.

“If we were to introduce a charge it would bring us in line with most other cities and also our own public parks, where we have been charging rent to event organisers for a number of years.”