Grassmarket shops fear for future after festival snub

The poster for the Greater Grassmarket Victorian Christmas which has been refused a license by the Edinburgh City Council. Picture: comp

The poster for the Greater Grassmarket Victorian Christmas which has been refused a license by the Edinburgh City Council. Picture: comp

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SHOP owners in the 
Grassmarket say they fear for their future after councillors threw out business-boosting plans for a Victorian-themed Christmas festival.

A vintage Ferris wheel, swing-boats, flying carousel, coconut shies and roasted chestnuts were all included in the proposals drawn up to attract people to the area after a dramatic fall in visitors over recent years thanks to the Christmas festivities around Princes Street.

Traders in the Grassmarket originally believed the council-backed Edinburgh’s Christmas programme was being extended to the Old Town this year. But despite new seasonal events in the Royal Mile, the Grassmarket is not included in the city’s official festive fun.

Now the Victorian 
Christmas put together by the Greater Grassmarket Business Improvement District, working with M&D’s Events, has been blocked by the council’s licensing sub-committee after residents objected.

Georgia Artus, project manager with the Greater Grassmarket BID, which represents 230 local firms, said the proposals had been designed to be considerate of residents and modified to meet their concerns – including delaying the start until December 5, earlier closing times and tougher noise controls.

Organisers even suggested the festival could be given a seven-day trial period to show it would not lead to problems.

Ms Artus, pictured, said: “For the last three years we have been working to get Christmas events in the Grassmarket.”

Footfall in the area had fallen by 17 per cent from 2012 to 2013 and another 24 per cent by 2014.

Ms Artus added: “This was an event of a much smaller scale than those taking place across the rest of the city, with a family-focused audience and a traditional theme.”

Colin Hope, who runs heraldry shop The Knights Vault in West Bow, said he was seriously considering moving away from the Grassmarket following the council decision – and said other businesses could close.

He said: “I know of a couple who won’t obviously say so openly, but are ready to give up the ghost.”

Mr Hope said last December had been “deathly quiet” but was enthusiastic about the Victorian Christmas.

He said: “I got quite excited about something substantial taking place to drag people off the Royal Mile and down into our part of town. It wasn’t going to be too raucous or noisy.

“I was totally taken aback when it was rejected. I’m seriously thinking about relocating. If we can’t get the support of the council to try to increase that footfall, what’s going to happen in the longer term? They need to make up their minds if they want the Grassmarket to work as a commercial area or not.”

Jason Redman, owner of the Red Door Gallery in Victoria Street, was “surprised and bitterly disappointed” at the decision. He said: “We’ve been here 12 years and we’re a successful art gallery. It’s business as usual for us over Christmas, but not everyone is in the same position. There are a lot of fledgling businesses and this decision makes life very difficult.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com