GREEN councillors last night said it would be “absolutely outrageous” if claims that the felling of trees in Princes Street Gardens was linked to the commercial needs of the Christmas market turned out to be even partially true.
Public anger over the removal of more than 50 trees two weeks ago as part of landscaping works and an extension at Scottish National Gallery was further fuelled by the sight of platforms being installed on the cleared land ready to house stalls for the Christmas market.
The National Galleries, market organisers Underbelly and the city council have all denied there is any link between the trees being chopped down and the use of the ground for market stalls.
But as a storm raged on social media, City Centre Green councillor Claire Miller said: “This is becoming more and more murky. The case for tree removal, which has rightly angered so many people, was supposed to be about access paths for disabled people and opening up views. Whether that’s right or not, that is what the planning committee was asked to take into account.
“Now the accusation is that the removal of trees has allowed commercial stalls or other Christmas attractions to be located on that part of the gardens in a way that would not be possible had the trees still been there. I am pursuing this point urgently with council officers but I have to say that if it is even partly true then it is absolutely outrageous.”
However Underbelly said there had been stalls in the same place last year, the only difference being they had had to work around the trees and now they did not.
A spokeswoman said: “Edinburgh’s Christmas had no involvement in the removal of trees from Princes Street Gardens, it was a decision made by the council and National Galleries in June.”
A council spokeswoman said: “These trees were not removed for commercial reasons and Edinburgh’s Christmas stalls will occupy this area as they did last year. The felling took place last month in line with the National Galleries expansion project, which received planning approval in June.
“The NGS programme of works will begin in early January, and has been designed to improve accessibility in the Gardens and will include the planting of a number of semi-mature trees.”
A spokesman for the National Galleries of Scotland said: “We absolutely refute the suggestion that the reason for the removal of the trees is related to any temporary installations such as Edinburgh’s Christmas.
“The trees were removed in October so a quick start could be made on constructing an accessible path in January 2019.
“The main aim of the landscaping work in East Princes St Gardens is to address the inadequacy of access for people with mobility impairments. Our project will create a new path that makes the Gardens, our building and our collection more accessible to all.”
The 50 or so trees which have been chopped down will be replaced by 22 large saplings and semi-mature trees as part of the landscaping project.