Green light for Edinburgh's Christmas Market but with strict conditions
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Councillors have approved two-thirds of the plans, but have withheld a decision on the proposals for High Street/Parliament Square due to concerns over the length of time Cockburn Street will be closed and the impact on disabled parking access.
As the market won’t be going ahead this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Edinburgh City Council and the organisers, London-based event firm Underbelly, are already looking to Christmas 2021.
The Christmas event is treated as three separate planning applications, which were heard at a meeting of the council’s development management committee on Wednesday November 11.
The first of the three applications dealt with the most contentious aspect of the Christmas market event - the use of East Princes Street Gardens.
There will be no stalls in East Princes Street Gardens, which has traditionally hosted the market, but the Big Wheel and Star Flyer attractions are to be located on the top level of the gardens close to the Scott Monument, along with two box offices and toilet facilities.
The entrance will be via The Mound, which will have 27 stalls.
Councillors sitting on the development management committee raised concerns over the use of diesel generators, the level of noise which will emanate from the site, and whether the grass area to the west of the Scott Monument, which does not form part of the event, will be fenced off from the general public.
City centre councillor Jo Mowat, Conservatives, also raised concerns over construction work, currently scheduled to start in early November, interfering with Remembrance events in Princes Street Gardens.
Councillor Mowat said: “I still think there are amenity issues around this, in particular the diesel generators, it isn’t a great thing to have diesel generators in the centre of town, and that’s something we should deal with by condition.
“The other thing I have a problem with, at the moment, is we’re talking about starting construction on the fourth of November, for a 16-day construction period for opening on the 20th of November.
“Now it may be that we want to restrict that construction until after the 11th of November and the Remembrance Gardens, which there has been a council motion about elsewhere, where councillors have said we do not want to see construction on this site conflicting with the Remembrance Garden.”
Councillors voted to approve the plans for East Princes Street Gardens, but subject to a length set of conditions and informatives, including: fencing should be applied to the grassy areas to the west of the Scott Monument, to stop members of the public damaging the grass; construction should only begin on the land to the east of Sir Walter’s Cafe in the Gardens after midday on November 12; Underbelly must investigate potential alternatives to using diesel generators; and if the scale of the event is to increase, then the proposals must come back to the committee for approval, rather than be approved by council officers.
The second application dealt with the events on George Street and Castle Street.
Another 18 stalls will be sited in George Street, along with the ice rink, which was ousted from St Andrew Square last year, and a bar with a viewing deck.
Castle Street will have a box office and toilet facilities, along with 12 stalls.
Forth councillor George Gordon, SNP, requested an informative about disabled parking: “I’d like it recognised that the applicants and the partnership work with enforcement, to make sure there is increased enforcement in the area, because it should be recognised that there is a disproportionate loss of amenity for disabled people.
“Something really needs to give, otherwise it’s not going to improve and we’ll become a city that shuts down for disabled people whenever there’s a festival.”
Before approving the application, councillors added councillor Gordon’s informative, as well as an informative asking the organisers to agree an acceptable sound level with Environmental Health, particularly surrounding the proposed ice rink, which can then be monitored.
The third and final application deals with the Christmas events in Old Town.
The High Street will have 14 stalls and the Christmas tree, and staff welfare facilities will be situated in Parliament Square.
Councillors voiced concerns over how long Cockburn Street will remain closed to traffic under the council’s Spaces for People scheme, as the application is based on the street only being open to pedestrians.
Pentland Hill councillor and convener of the committee, Neil Gardiner, SNP, said: “There’s a temporary closure of the High Street junction, and we’re not really sure how long that will stay in force for, without some solution, and I’m not saying what that would be, it would be difficult for this event to take place.
“We could consent this, and still that impediment would be there and it would be dangerous potentially to hold this event.”
Councillor Mowat added: “We’ve assessed this as a pedestrianised section of road, but that’s not right as we’ve changed the nature of the road.
“Now as the roads authority we can do this, but I don’t think the assessment that we’ve got in front of us allows us to take a decision due to the material change in the road not reflected in the report.
“I’m afraid its sections of the council not talking to each other in a joined up fashion.”
Councillors agreed to delay making a decision on the third application until more information on the Cockburn Street/High Street closures can be provided.
Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporting Service