Setting the wheel in motion in the big debate

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Yesterday’s Evening News revelation on council plans for a Ferris wheel in Princes Street Gardens has got the city talking. Here, Andy Neal and Euan Leitch state their cases on the controversial idea.

For

By Andy Neal

The proposal to establish a big wheel in Princes Street Gardens, on the site of the winter festival ice rink, is a positive move to help city centre businesses facing challenging trading conditions.

Any initiative that is designed to help attract more people to the city centre – and therefore help drive footfall to city centre shops, restaurants, and pubs – must be a good thing in the current climate.

It is to be especially welcomed that the project is planned for the summer months, when the large number of festival venues in the Old Town and south side of the city sees many people drawn away from the centre. If the big wheel can help attract people in the other direction, all good and well.

Others may well argue that the construction of a 60-metre wheel will have a detrimental impact on the aesthetics of the city centre, and in particular on the views of Edinburgh Castle and the skyline from some vantage points.

I would argue that, in many places, big wheels are seen as creating a new visual attraction as part of a skyline. That has certainly been the case with the London Eye. However, even accepting that the visual amenity argument has merit, it must be weighed against the need to help our businesses through an economic recession that is having a very detrimental impact on both the retail and hospitality sectors.

Our city centre attracts people because of its wonderful heritage and its stunning visual beauty, but they also come to enjoy its cafes, bars, shops and all of its myriad attractions.

These businesses also create wealth and employment for our citizens, and it is right that our city council should do what it can to help them by creating new reasons to visit the city centre.

• Andy Neal is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, the company established to run the city centre Business Improvement District

Against

By Euan Leitch

Yesterday’s report that Edinburgh City Council is looking at siting a 60-metre-high Ferris wheel in East Princes Street Gardens raises the question: what does the council think the gardens are for?

Its own Conservation Management Plan says that “both gardens are the result of concerted action by the citizens of Edinburgh to preserve the land as open space and leave open views of the castle”.

The Cockburn Association has long been part of that action to retain the gardens as an attractive green, peaceful, inner-city lung for everyone to enjoy and our archives begin with letters to the Town Council in 1875 requesting more trees in the gardens.

The setting of the gardens between the Old Town ridge and the terrace of Princes Street is incomparable, crucial to what makes Edinburgh unique and a World Heritage Site.

The Ferris wheel would not enhance the gardens as a lunchtime escape from the office or shopping, but add another public place where residents and visitors compete for space, introducing commercial pressures.

If it is to be positioned on the lower lawn of East Princes Street Gardens it will be below the top of the Scott Monument and the Castle ramparts, both of which already offer stupendous views.

Given the world-class art collections, museums, historic attractions, festivals, landscape and architecture of the city, a Ferris wheel would be unlikely to match their quality but would disrupt the tranquil nature of the gardens and damage spectacular views across the Waverley Valley.

The purported financial gain to Edinburgh of £1.4 million is speculative and presumably does not take into account those who don’t wish to visit a fairground.

The old putting green was a far more appropriate – and Scottish – leisure activity. The winter Ferris wheel may be a bit of temporary fun but to introduce one for six months of the year would be a plook on Edinburgh’s lovely face.

• Euan Leitch is assistant director of The Cockburn Association

LOOK OF YORK

AMONG the cities to benefit from the arrival of a big wheel is York. The National Railway Museum had around 750,000 visitors a year prior to the wheel being built and 900,000 visitors in the first financial year the attraction was in operation.

Carrying 1000 passengers an hour and costing £8.50, it helped to attract 1.2 million visitors to the museum between 2006 and 2008.

The 53-metre wheel returned to the city in December and will remain at the North York Hotel until January 2013.

Kay Hyde, of tourism agency Visit York, said the wheel is regarded as “an attraction in its own right”. She added: “It has attracted visitors who hadn’t visited the city before. For a historic city like York it’s the perfect modern complement.”

Great City Attractions, which is in talks with the council over the bid and already operates sites in York, Glasgow and Brisbane in Australia, said each wheel creates 40 jobs and that 90 per cent of projects are extended or return the following year.

Nigel Ward, the firm’s head of global site development, said: “We are aware that in Edinburgh, as with many other European cities, the economic situation is challenging, especially in the area around Princes Street.

“We are happy to be able to make a proposal to bring one of our very high quality, multi-million pound wheels to the city centre that has been shown to bring economic benefit to our host locations, wherever we have operated.”