THE garden at the heart of Edinburgh’s finest Georgian square is set to be opened up for a host of public events for the first time under plans for a £1 million makeover.
City centre managers are in talks with the proprietors of Charlotte Square about opening up regular access to its private gardens, which date back to 1808, but are rarely used.
The New Town space is normally only accessible to the public during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but is then rendered almost unusable because of the damage caused by the event, which attracts more than 220,000 people a year.
A major makeover of the garden to make it suitable for hosting events throughout the year is part of an emerging long-term vision for the square.
The project, expected to cost up to £1 million, would involve new floral displays and pathways through the garden, creating paved areas where large marquees could be installed, installing power supplies and improving its drainage systems and soil structure.
The plan is being discussed in the wake of the success of opening up St Andrew Square garden, at the east end of George Street, in 2003, after agreement was reached between Edinburgh City Council and property owners. It has since become host to events including Fringe shows, a festive ice rink, visual art installations and film screenings.
The book festival does an enormous amount of damage to the ground.Willie Gray Muir
City chiefs believe securing regular public access to Charlotte Square’s garden will help the west end of the city compete better with the east end, which will be transformed by the forthcoming St James Centre redevelopment.
Willie Gray Muir, managing director of Sundial Properties, one of the Charlotte Square owners, said: “The garden is the centre of probably one of the most important urban spaces anywhere in Europe.
“We’re very supportive of the book festival and think it’s a fantastic use of the square. It’s allowed the festival to become one of the really major events for the city. We don’t charge them anything, we just hand the site over to them each year. But there is an issue as it takes a very heavy toll on the garden.
“It’s a problem, but it’s one we want to solve. It’s not the proprietors that are preventing other uses, it is the fact that the book festival does an enormous amount of damage to the ground. It’s almost unusable for the rest of the year as it needs the time to recover.
“We’d very much like to have the ability to put things up and down quicker, and have infrastructure installed so it could be used in other ways, for other sorts of events, and to give other people the chance to use it. We’re talking about controlled, but regular access.”
A spokesman for the Charlotte Square Proprietors Association said: “The proprietors are actively working with the book festival and other users of the gardens to ensure that access can be made available for suitable events throughout the year.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of business group Essential Edinburgh, which manages St Andrew Square garden, said: “It would be in everyone’s interests to see the square used more often. There is definitely a potential willingness among the owners to look at what may happen in the future. People are keen to investigate the possibility of using it more often.
“If you look at the success of St Andrew Square in terms of the events there and the way it has become a visitor attraction, to have something at the west end as well would be great.”