Up to 200 events will be staged in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens each year under plans to hand over the running of the park to an arms-length operator, city council officials have admitted.
The £25 million arena would host nearly seven times as many events as it does at present under a new “income generation” plan for the park
Proceeds from new events will help maintain new infrastructure which will replace the existing Ross Bandstand and concrete bowl beneath Edinburgh Castle.
The council has joined forced with the Ross Development Trust, which has been set up by property developer Norman Springford, to pursue an overhaul of the gardens after the current facilities were branded “not fit for purpose.”
Their proposed “self-sufficient” model has been put out for consultation for the next 12 weeks by the city council in response to criticism from heritage groups that there had not been enough scrutiny of a proposed “arms-length company” which would have responsibility for West Princes Street Gardens.
New events would be staged both within the proposed Ross Pavilion and at a planned “garden gateway” complex overlooking the castle and the new concert arena.
Among the new events being considered are smaller-scale concerts than those held at present, theatre, comedy, dance, visual art exhibitions, talks and children’s shows.
The official consultation document said the project represented an opportunity to “evolve Edinburgh’s reputation as a world class city of heritage and culture, blending history and tradition with contemporary energies.”
However the council has insisted there is no change planned to the number of large scale events, including the annual Hogmanay concert, the Edinburgh International Festival’s fireworks finale, and pop and rock gigs.
The gardens are expected to remain open to the public for all other events, while disruption from larger events is expected to be reduced by the design and facilities of the new Ross Pavilion.
The consultation document states: “This programme will form a large part of the income generation plan for the venue, which will ensure the new facilities are self-sufficient and allow for ongoing investment in West Princes Street Gardens.”
Crunch talks were held earlier this year between the city council and the trust after concerns were raised concerns about who would be responsible for their upkeep.
Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford has offered to help bankroll the replacement for the Ross Bandstand and the creation of a new cafe-bar, corporate hospitality facilities and events space which will have direct access to the gardens from Princes Street.
A winning concept for the project was chosen last August after an international design competition which attracted 125 entries and was won by American architectural practice WHY.
The consultation document states: West Princes Street Gardens is one of the most cherished public green spaces in Scotland, loved by locals and visitors alike.
“However, over the past few decades due to increasing budget pressures the money available to invest in the facilities has decreased and as a result the Garden’s infrastructure has suffered.
“Access to the gardens and public use of the gardens will be protected. The council and the trust recognise the limitations of funding within current budgets with this proposed solution to allow new investment which otherwise would not be available.”
Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convener, said: “Sitting in the heart of the city, between the Old and New Towns under Edinburgh Castle, West Princes Gardens are a central part of civic life in the city. The gardens are an important public asset for all of Edinburgh to experience and it will remain in public ownership and under council control, available for everybody to enjoy.
“If approved, the arms-length external organisation would be established to ensure this remains the case, while allowing the flexibility for the Ross Development Trust and other important stakeholders to raise the required investment for the future pavilion and other key areas of infrastructure.
“I want to know how these plans sit with the citizens of Edinburgh, and what they see as priorities for them and their gardens. We want people to play a part in this vision.
“Since the gardens are so central to daily Edinburgh life – it’s where we relax, play, eat and enjoy incredible live events – I’m sure many people will want to have their say.”
David Ellis, managing director of the Ross Development Trust, said: “This consultation period allows us a great opportunity to provide people with more detailed information about our work in West Princes St Gardens.
“Receiving feedback from the public will be extremely beneficial to the project as we continue to move forward.”