Fringe venue hit out at St Andrew’s Square ban

St Andrew Square when it was used as a Fringe venue in 2016. Picture: contributed
St Andrew Square when it was used as a Fringe venue in 2016. Picture: contributed
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Fringe show organisers claim they were taken to the very brink of financial ruin after being turfed out of a New Town square for the 70th anniversary of Edinburgh’s festivals this summer.

The owners of St Andrew Square have been urged to rethink a controversial ban on venues in its garden by long-running promoters after a “disastrous” season.

The operators of the Stand Comedy Club say the losses they racked up were “enough to buy a house in Edinburgh” after being forced to move from the square into a Freemason’s Hall on George Street.

They claim their problems were compounded after the council refused a request to close part of George Street outside the venue, despite agreeing to similar moves outside the home of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Assembly Rooms.

Salt ‘n’ Sauce Promotions ran two venues in the garden – the Famous Spiegeltent and The Stand in the Square – for three years until the firm was told it would not be able to return due to the impact they were having on the turf.

The firm has asked the council, the Festival Fringe Society and Essential Edinburgh, the business group which maintains the garden on behalf of the square’s owners to help secure a return for next year.

The Edinburgh International Festival was allowed to install infrastructure in the garden to accommodate its sound and light spectacular, Bloom, while the garden is about to be taken over by an ice rink and a bar for the festive season.

However Salt ‘n’ Sauce Promotions claims it has been left in the dark over what will be allowed to go ahead next year, despite a plea for an early 
decision.

It emerged in February that the owners of the square had demanded a clampdown on the staging of Fringe shows in the square – which has seen the opening of a string of new bars and restaurants in the last year.

Salt ‘n’ Sauce director Kenny O’Brien has now written to Essential Edinburgh asking for either a return to the square or for part of George Street to be blocked off so that a new festival “hub” can be created.

He said: “Your decision not to allow us to use St Andrew Square as a fringe venue this year has hit us hard. The combined losses on George Street were enough to buy a house in Edinburgh.

“Had our company not been in a strong position to start with the effects of this scale of loss would have been ruinous.

“We will survive but we cannot afford to ever take this sort of risk again.

“It is now essential to quickly clarify our options for next year and beyond.”

Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “Essential Edinburgh acknowledge receipt of the letter from Salt ‘n’ Sauce and are working with them and other interested parties.

“When decisions have been made we will release this information at the appropriate time.

“The parameters for the use of St Andrew Square during the summer period have been explained to interested parties, including Salt ‘n’ Sauce and the Fringe.”

A council spokeswoman said: “We are happy to have a continued dialogue with all stakeholders in the New Town area over future Festival Fringe activity.

“We understand the requirements for early decision-making and are keen to ensure any future agreements are made promptly.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com