Edinburgh could get official mural and ‘street art’ sites to deter eyesore graffiti

Official sites for vast murals and other “street art” are set to be created in Edinburgh - as part of a crackdown on graffiti blighting the city.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 6:00 am
Graffiti artists from across the UK and Europe working on a stretch of wall close to Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal. Pic: Alistair Linford

Council-owned properties and privately-owned sites, including in the Edinburgh World Heritage Site, could be transformed by artists under a new policy.

It could see sites transformed in a similar way to the buildings in Glasgow where Billy Connolly was recently immortalised by the artists John Byrne, Jack Vettriano and Rachel Maclean.

An official report due to be discussed by councillors today said street art or murals offering “great opportunities” to improve some areas. Officials have cited anecdotal evidence that official sites discouraged graffiti due to a “perceived sense of ownership of the artwork from the local community.”

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But council officials have warned against a blanket policy in favour of murals or street art to avoid “potential conflict with heritage protection.”

The council has occasionally approved official sites in the past, including around the New Waverley development in the Old Town, while the UK’s longest legal graffiti wall was created last year in Leith.

The proposal for official sites across the city has emerged from a taskforce set up to tackle the “widespread” problems with graffiti across the city, which the local authority admits is only prioritised for removal if deemed offensive.

The council has defined graffiti as “writing or drawings scribbled, scratched or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.”

However it said street art was “usually authorised by the land or building owner and tends to take the form of pictorial based, as opposed to graffiti, which is usually word-based and is undertaken without permission.”

In a report for the council, its “director of place,” Paul Lawrence said: “The group discussed several examples where the council, or other major landowners, have given permission for street art on their land or equipment. It was felt street art pieces or murals offered great opportunities to improve the appearance of local areas and to reflect local heritage in some cases.

“There is also anecdotal evidence that suggests the prevalence of a mural or street artwork discourages graffiti as there is a perceived sense of ownership of the artwork from the local community.

“There was, however, a recognition it would not be practical or responsible to allow a blanket policy where murals or street art would be assumed to be permitted due to the large number of conservation areas in Edinburgh and the potential conflict with heritage protection.

“On this basis, the group felt that there would need to be some form of a process which gave formal permission for murals or street art, protected conservation and heritage sites where appropriate, but was not overly bureaucratic.”

Donald Wilson, the council’s culture leader, said: “Whilst the working group agrees that there are widespread problems across the city with graffiti we also recognise that tackling this issue should not be at the expense of street art or murals which we encourage in appropriate areas.

“One of the recommendations is that a policy statement on approved sites where street art could be permitted should be drafted. If approved this policy and method for approval would be drafted and brought to a future committee.”