Comment: Striking correct balance with street rent

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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TODAY we report on plans by Edinburgh City Council to trial the renting out of streets and squares in the city centre. The proposal will be piloted in Castle Street, a partly pedestrianised zone which has benefited previously from major investment in street furniture.

The plan has two key benefits.

Firstly, the city council is expected to charge around £1000 a day for large events – a small additional income stream for the local authority but one that is welcome for the cash-strapped council. The signal from transport and environment leader Lesley Hinds that this cash will be invested in the civic realm is to be welcomed.

Secondly, it’s a boost to the city centre as new events, if organised appropriately, can add another layer of buzz and excitement to the Capital.

St Andrew Square has emerged as a model for this type of deal with concerts, shows, exhibitions and other events regularly drawing large crowds.

However, it is important the correct balance is struck between events and the needs of local traders and residents.

Businesses will not be impressed if temporary events merely mimic the offering that already exists and end up drawing income away from traders who are there year-round.

And it’s important that temporary events still allow clear access to retailers and restaurants, and don’t detract from the current offer.

Similarly, the council must be mindful of city centre residents who already have to put up with a lot of noise and disruption. Too many events, litter, noise or damage will end any support from local people and other organisations.

Edinburgh is following many other councils in this charging approach, so there is evidence of success. But a balance must be struck to ensure that an open for business approach is successful. A pilot will help to establish whether this can be achieved.