Last-ditch plea over Fringe shows banned from historic square

Fringe shows have been staged in St Andrew Square Garden for the last three years.
Fringe shows have been staged in St Andrew Square Garden for the last three years.
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe promoters have issued an eleventh-hour plea for a rethink over a ban on shows being staged in a historic New Town garden after city council chiefs rejected a bid to relocate them elsewhere.

They say they have been left with no other option but to “beg for clemency” from the owners of properties on St Andrew Square who have ordered a clampdown on its use.

Finance giants RBS and Standard Life have been urged to think again after a bid to close off part of George Street to accommodate the Famous Spiegeltent was turned down.

The city council and business group Essential Edinburgh, who lease the square and maintain it on behalf of its owners, are under mounting pressure to strike a compromise deal to avoid a row over the square’s use overshadowing the 70th anniversary of the Fringe and the 250th anniversary of the New Town.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival is in talks with the council over using part of George Street, while the operators of the Assembly Rooms are also planning to use part of the thoroughfare.

However ongoing work on the St James development is thought to have forced the council to rule out a complete closure of George Street for festival events this summer.

It is believed to want to keep traffic flowing along most of the street to avoid the risk of the city grinding to a halt.

Officials have been encouraging the relocation of the Spiegeltent to either Festival Square and Fountainbridge.

However Salt ‘n’ Sauce Promotions, which has used the square for the last three years, said the “only serious option” for this year was to “squeeze” onto George Street, and this had now been rejected.

The firm has urged the owners to “dig down into your reserves of civic compassion” and allow Fringe shows to go ahead in the garden for a final year while a long-term alternative is found. It has also told Essential Edinburgh that the firms could still “walk away from this looking like heroes rather than villains.”

Director Kenny O’Brien said: “This event has been hugely popular and has made great progress in helping to bring the Fringe and more people to the New Town, so I’m appealing to any sense of civic pride that may still exist among the owners to let us have one last season.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We‘re continuing to work with each of the festival promoters to review potential spaces for August activity. A final plan is yet to be put in place but we’re conscious decisions need to be made soon.”

However Essential Edinburgh chief executive Roddy Smith said festival promoters had "no absolute right to run a commercial event on space they do not own, whether that is in St Andrew Square or on George Street."

He added: "Essential Edinburgh will work with the Council to animate certain blocks of George Street as per our on-going discussions.

"We will implement the footprint we are given and ensure all the necessary requirements are met to run a successful city centre event."