Calton Hill Hogmanay ban: ‘budget pressures’ a key factor

Tourists enjoy the view from Calton Hill, which will be closed for Hogmanay. Picture: Toby Williams
Tourists enjoy the view from Calton Hill, which will be closed for Hogmanay. Picture: Toby Williams
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CUTS to the city’s budget played a major part in the decision to ban Hogmanay revellers from watching the party on Calton Hill, according to a senior council official.

Revellers have traditionally watched the firework display from Calton Hill and this is the first time the vantage spot will be barred to the public. The council has blamed the move on health and safety concerns.

But the letter sent by a local authority officer in response to a complaint about the decision to city chief executive Andrew Kerr said that “budget pressures” had been a key factor. In September the council announced it would have to save £141 million.

Calton Hill is used as a firing site for fireworks as well as being popular as a vantage point for seeing the display above the Castle.

“The budget challenges facing the council mean there is no funding to make this an official site,” the letter said.

“Stewards are provided to secure the fireworks site, but the hill is unlit. It is not an official viewing area and no facilities are in place to accommodate any audience with sufficient steward numbers, toilets, first aid, etc.”

The letter also noted that policing the area was an issue, stating: “Opening the hill will put additional burden on Police Scotland resources and require additional first aid provision on a night that already sees the emergency services highly pressured. If the weather is particuarly cold or wet then risks increase further.”

The vantage point, which has been popular with thousands of party-goers over the past 22 years, will be closed off from 7pm on Hogmanay.

The decision has sparked protests, with hundreds of people signing petitions and one MSP suggesting it was a cynical attempt to push people in to buying tickets for the official street party.

Organisers have said it is increasingly difficult to guarantee the safety of the crowds on Calton Hill – one of the two main firing points for the midnight fireworks, drawing in growing numbers of revellers.

A city council spokesman said: “Over recent years the number of people gathering on Calton Hill has substantially increased – estimates now put this at a few thousand. As a viewing area, Calton Hill is a specific concern because of its topography, the presence of fireworks – both firing and debris – and the growing number of people on the hill.”

Unique Events, who have produced the event for the past 23 years, Police Scotland and the council have pointed to other viewing points around the city as alternatives, such as the Meadows, North Bridge and Inverleith Park.

This year’s Concert in the Gardens, Candlelit Concert and the Old Town Ceilidh are already sold out, but tickets are still available for the Street Party. Pete Irvine, director of Unique Events, said he is expecting the weather for Thursday night’s events to be “fairly good”.