£25m plan to replace Edinburgh bandstand in turmoil

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Edinburgh’s plans for a new outdoor concert arena have been plunged into doubt just months after a winning design was chosen for the £25 million scheme.

It has been derailed by a dispute between the philanthropist offering to help replace the Ross Bandstand and the city council, the sudden departure of the project’s head of fundraising, and concerns from the heritage sector about its impact on West Princes Street Gardens.

A view of the envisioned redesign of the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

A view of the envisioned redesign of the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.

Work on the new Ross Pavilion, which was hoped to be complete by 2019, has been halted amid wrangling over who will be responsible for the gardens. Hotel developer Norman Springford has revealed that design work and fundraising efforts have been “suspended” as a result of a reluctance from the city council to hand over the running of the historic park to his charitable trust.

He said: “We need to get clarity from the council. We can’t raise the funding for the project if we don’t have a say on how the gardens are run. We don’t want to see over-commercialisation. Anything that is done has to be of the highest quality.

“The council has different agendas, in different areas, depending on who you speak to. We want it to be a public-private partnership.”

Meanwhile, the trust is facing opposition to its plans from long-running heritage watchdog, the Cockburn Association. It wants to kick-start a public debate on the use of spaces in Princes Street Gardens, Festival Square and St Andrew Square for “paid or gated” events.

It has emerged that Marion Williams, the director of fundraising for the Ross Development Trust, left the project several weeks ago. She was hired in March from the Cockburn Association, where she had been director.

A report by new Cockburn director Terry Levinthal states: “There is increasing concern about the management, maintenance and long-term sustainability of public spaces. This is compounded by a blurring of what is public open space and what is private space. The public realm has been attacked by the creeping privatisation of what little remains of public space.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The redevelopment of the Ross Pavilion will open up West Princes Street Gardens into a space which can be enjoyed by more people, more often, for generations to come.

“We’re working together with the trust to develop a business plan to provide clarity on the future operating model for the Ross Pavilion.”