Princes Street Gardens closed to Festival crowds as National Gallery revamp drags on

A huge swathe of Princes Street Gardens is to remain out of bounds throughout the Edinburgh Festival due to prolonged delays in a multi-million revamp of the Scottish National Gallery and its surroundings.

Sunday, 4th August 2019, 10:32 am
Work on the National Galleries site is £6 million over budget. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The National Galleries of Scotland has admitted that a £22 million project to overhaul its flagship attraction in Edinburgh city centre has hit another delay.

It failed to meet its target of opening a brand new entrance and the re-landscaping of East Princes Street Gardens for the International Festival and Fringe.

The lower section of the gardens is running weeks behind schedule and still has to be laid with new turf, while new sloping terraces are not yet ready to be opened to the public.

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Protective fencing for the gardens is expected to be kept in place over the whole summer festival period at a time when public access will regularly be restricted in West Princes Street Gardens for a series of nine “Summer Sessions” concerts featuring the likes of Lewis Capaldi, Primal Scream, Chvrches and Madness.

Work on the new main entrance and the re-landscaping of the gardens, including a new zig-zagging “accessible” path, began in January and was supposed to be completed by spring.

However, the National Galleries announced in April that none of the work in the garden would be ready until August, while delays were also confirmed for the gallery’s main restaurant, shop and the new public entrance overlooking the park and Waverley Station. Completion of the full revamp is already running three years later than originally envisaged.

The total cost has risen 
from £15.3 million to £22m since full details of the 
project were first announced in 2015.

The complex nature of the engineering work which has had to be carried out in the gardens this year has been blamed for the delays, although the public precinct on The Mound and the zig-zagging path have both finally opened. The restaurant is due to have a “soft launch” this weekend.

Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries, said: “The laying of the turf in the lower section of the gardens will also commence in the next couple of weeks.

“The turf, along with the seeding on the embankments, will require extra care, so protective fencing is in place to ensure the grass has enough time to establish and bed in.

“This will take several weeks, and we will co-ordinate with the council’s park department as to when we can open these, to ensure the best start for these new, landscaped areas.

“The newly planted trees are being monitored carefully by our landscape architects, who are also in close contact with the council.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “ This has been a complex project but National Galleries have assured us that they are continuing to work hard to get the lower gardens accessible to everyone as soon as possible.”