Hogmanay Calton Hill ban: ‘health and safety gone mad’

Edinburgh's Disgrace on Calton Hill pictured in moonlight.  Picture: Ian Rutherford

Edinburgh's Disgrace on Calton Hill pictured in moonlight. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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MOUNTING anger has greeted a controversial decision to ban Hogmanay revellers from one of the city’s main vantage points.

Organisers of the world-famous event said they had blocked access to Calton Hill amid safety concerns.

But with thousands of tickets still available for the official Princes Street celebrations, residents and politicians have described the last-minute announcement as a “cynical” ploy to herd people into the paid-for street party.

And according to an Evening News poll of 513 readers on Twitter, almost 80 per cent were against the closure plans.

Officials insist it is becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee the safety of the crowds on Calton Hill – one of the main viewing areas for the midnight fireworks – though there have been no serious injuries in recent years.

COMMENT: Hogmanay is not just for ticket-holders

Calton Hill fireworks. Picture: Jane Barlow

Calton Hill fireworks. Picture: Jane Barlow

Tory MSP Cameron Buchanan described the move as “health and safety gone mad”, adding: “The city council is being rather cynical in pointing people towards paid-for events.

“They want people to go down to their event on Princess Street so they can herd them and keep control of them. It’s a stupid idea. We are living in a nanny state where everything is becoming too protective.”

City centre Tory councillor Joanna Mowat added that she was “surprised” the ban had been agreed without consultation “almost as a fait accompli”.

“They have suddenly changed the rules of engagement,” she said. “We have managed it without serious accidents for years. When are we going to treat people like grown-ups and stop being overly-solicitous with their health?

They want people to go down to their event on Princess Street so they can herd them and keep control of them. It’s a stupid idea. We are living in a nanny state where everything is becoming too protective.

Cameron Buchanan

“What we are saying is that the only way people can be part of the party in the city centre is to have a ticket to go there. That seems to be handing the city over to commercial operators and I don’t think there is any justification for that.”

But a council spokeswoman said there were several free vantage points to watch the fireworks, including Inverleith Park and the Meadows.

She added: “The council will once again close North Bridge to traffic which allows an uninterrupted view of the fireworks display in the heart of the city centre. This New Year’s Eve, with growing spectator numbers, all agencies have agreed that public access to Calton Hill is inappropriate.”

However, the council was only able to provide anecdotal evidence of crowds growing every year and Green MSP Alison Johnstone said she was “disappointed” by the ban.

She added: “It’s a shame to restrict this kind of informal access to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations. The council cannot guarantee safety on any of our hills and this doesn’t seem to be grounds to restrict access to a wonderful monument that gives fabulous views of the fireworks.”

Stewards from G4S will be policing access points to 
Calton Hill from 7pm until after midnight. But Marion Williams of the Cockburn Association questioned their right to ban people from a public space used as a vantage point for more than two decades. Branding the ban “cynical and shocking”, she also insisted it would be difficult to enforce.

“If Calton Hill is OK [to use] after 1am, why is it suddenly not OK during the ridiculously overpriced Hogmanay? People should have been told a long time ago, not a week before the event and it should have been part of the business plan.”

The council confirmed that Calton Hill is Common Good Land managed in the same way as its other property assets.

john.connell@edinburghnews.com