An unprecedented clampdown is to be ordered on the staging of shows, festivals and events in public spaces in Edinburgh city centre in the wake of complaints about over-crowding, over-commercialism and disruption for local residents.
Organisers will be urged to relocate activities outside the heart of the Capital for the first time – despite protests from tourism leaders, festival chiefs and the events sector that the idea is impractical and could curb the economic impact of events.
Under the new ground rules, drawn up to ensure a “consistent approach” to events in public spaces, they will only be approved if organisers agree to meet noise curfews, a strict limit will be imposed on the number allowed in the most sensitive areas, and more events will be encouraged outwith the peak summer period.
Organisers will have to meet strict criteria on whether a particular event is suitable, including whether it reflects well on Edinburgh’s status as a global festival city, a Unesco World Heritage Site or as “a sporting city”.
Events will only be able to be staged on George Street in future if a cultural activity or experience is the main activity, while only “low-impact” events will be allowed in St Andrew Square outwith the winter festival, when it is home to an open-air ice rink. The festivals will still be encouraged to use the Mound Precinct, next to the Scottish National Gallery in future – however the Grassmarket will only be used for a handful of “low-impact” or “short-duration” events to limit disruption to local residents.
The council wants to encourage greater use of Festival Square for “higher-profile” events and festival activity, while Castle Street will also be touted for some events, including temporary art installations and exhibitions. However, pop-up bars will not be allowed in any public spaces if council officials rule that they will become the main temporary use for a site.
Organisers will have 9pm noise curfews imposed for any events on the Royal Mile, Castle Street and the Grassmarket, while a 10pm limit is proposed for Festival Square and St Andrew Square.
An extensive consultation exercise carried out on the proposals involved more than 800 city centre residents. Three quarters of those surveyed were in favour of a greater distribution of events to “minimise disruption” to local businesses and residents, rather than having them “concentrated” in a few locations.
A report for the authority, expected to be endorsed by councillors this week, reveals that tourism bodies, festival officials and event organisers had “significant “reservations” about the idea, citing concerns that “no alternative spaces actually existed”. The council was warned it would be very difficult to move events to spaces “that were not likely to be attractive to visitors”.
Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place, said: “The protocol provides a framework by which the council and partners can better balance out the use of public spaces in Edinburgh, particularly in high-demand spaces within the central area of the city. It seeks to balance and respect the needs of residents, partner organisations and stakeholders to ensure the city delivers the right ‘things’, taking place in the right spaces, and at the right time.”
Lesley Macinnes, the council’s transport and environment leader, said: “More than 800 people gave us their views to help shape this protocol, which takes into account the different needs of residents, partner organisations and stakeholders.
“With a packed and varied year-round events calendar, Edinburgh has so much to offer residents and visitors. We want to ensure we get the balance right and use public space better across the city, so we can continue to provide a diverse and appealing range of accessible, well-managed events.”