PROPOSALS to place giant Olympic rings on Edinburgh Castle have been axed by Historic Scotland, marking a dramatic U-turn in the face of staunch public opposition and a campaign by the Evening News.
The controversial advert would have been unveiled at Hogmanay and remained fixed to the ramparts until late summer under plans to promote the London 2012 Games.
Critics had branded the move “unpalatable” and the £200,000 bill to taxpayers, revealed by the News, sparked outrage from city residents and politicians.
Olympic chiefs, led by Tory peer Sebastian Coe, had hoped the 30ft tall and 60ft wide Olympic insignia and the even larger Paralympic Agitos symbol would be beamed across the globe when unveiled during the Hogmanay bells.
But the application was blocked yesterday by Castle operator Historic Scotland.
Although the decision will sit well with public opinion, Olympic chiefs are said to be “baffled” by the move.
Officials from the Games body LOCOG travelled to Edinburgh with no site in mind and were told by public bodies – including Historic Scotland – that the Castle was a prime site for the advert. They said Historic Scotland was “very supportive” from the start, but the organisation appears to have backtracked in the face of public opposition.
Rather than raising concerns over the effect on the skyline or the image, it said the rings could affect the operation of the attraction.
One source close to the project said: “They [Historic Scotland] have been looking for a way out because of the public backlash and they’ve used the fact that the Castle is both a military installation and a top tourist attraction to do that.
“I don’t think they’d have let it go this far only to say for ‘operational reasons’ this can’t go ahead. They would have got that sorted before then.”
Despite the plans being rejected, LOCOG is expected to investigate placing the rings elsewhere in the Capital.
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald, who had warned the symbol was simply encouraging tourists to visit London, welcomed the decision. She said: “I’m delighted because it was a correct, mature decision taken in the interest of the economy. It wasn’t just a jolly ‘let’s support our boys and girls’, it was free advertising on a massive scale for a competitor city.
“I know this won’t change the way the people of the city support our athletes at the Games, but it will make a difference to those relying on tourism.”
Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, who oversees major events, had said the unveiling of the rings on Hogmanay would have been a positive image to be transmitted around the world, but opposed the rings being in place for longer than a few days.
He said: “The people of the city are not anti-Olympic by any means. However, I’m glad to see the sensible decision has been taken.
“I think the very public backlash obviously has something to do with Historic Scotland’s decision.
“When this was originally discussed the public view had either not been taken into account, or had been underestimated.
“I think the Evening News is to be commended for channelling the protest from the public so that Historic Scotland couldn’t have failed to notice this is a step too far.”
Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi welcomed the decision. He said: “Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s most visited historic building, not a giant poster board. The Olympic logo was not at all appropriate for the location.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are disappointed by Historic Scotland’s decision, but respect their position.
“Having worked closely with them, the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council for many months, we thought it would be a fantastic celebration for Edinburgh and the Castle to showcase the rings, and a real boost for the city.”
A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland explained its decision.
She said: “Following careful consideration it is clear that the proposal would not be suitable for the successful operation of Scotland’s most popular heritage attraction.
“It may well be that there are other more suitable sites in Edinburgh, and the Scottish Government and agencies will work with LOCOG and Edinburgh City Council to do what we can to assist with the consideration of alternatives.
“We fully support the Olympic Games and we look forward to hosting the Speed of Light event on Arthur’s Seat.”
On Monday we launched a poll to determine your preference for an alternative site for the Olympic Rings and Paralympic Agitos to be placed.
You can still have your say online today – at www.edinburghnews.com/saynotocoe – but here is how the results currently stand:
* Edinburgh Airport: 35%
* Forth Bridge: 24%
* The Mound: 23%
* City Chambers: 9%
* North Bridge: 8%
* Edinburgh Castle: 1%