Spiegeltent set for return to George Street

The Spiegeltent situated in George Street. Picture: Kate Chandler
The Spiegeltent situated in George Street. Picture: Kate Chandler
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A FESTIVAL arena which blocked off traffic in one of Edinburgh’s busiest thoroughfares is set to return to the city this summer, despite significant opposition from business leaders.

The Famous Spiegeltent will be based outside the refurbished Assembly Rooms on George Street for a second year after a successful debut in 2012, when it attracted around 200,000 visitors.

Traffic will be diverted away from the block between Frederick Street and Hanover Street and bars will also be set up to draw in audiences.

Despite drawing in large crowds, traders in the area said they had suffered due to restricted access for vehicles and the temporary removal of parking spaces.

Essential Edinburgh, the business group which represents 600 city centre traders, put forward plans to move the large travelling tent to St Andrew Square to keep George Street open to traffic.

However, city transport officials have recommended a repeat of last year instead.

It is understood both Assembly Rooms and the Spiegeltent only made a profit last year thanks to takings from the large bar outside, which was similar in scale to those provided by rival venues around Edinburgh University’s main campus.

However, it is also understood that nightclub chains including the Montpelier group, which owns Opal Lounge and Tigerlily, had objected, claiming they had seen a downturn from the setting up of the outside bar.

Edinburgh councillors will make a formal decision on the move next week, following a report from officials. Spiegeltent was moved to George Street to allow the New Town to benefit from the Festival, which has historically been based around the Old Town.

Tommy Sheppard, the Assembly Room promoter and owner of The Stand comedy club chain, said a number of concessions had been made to traders - including a ban on the grilling of meat outdoors which had prompted complaints from upmarket clothes stores - and a reduction in noise during the day.

“Last year’s event was a tremendous success enjoyed by several hundred thousand people. We want to build on that success and continue to build a must-visit festival hub right in the heart of the city” he said.

“We’ve listened to the concerns that have been raised by some local businesses and will be making a number of changes which we’re pretty sure they will like. The site will be more open and easier for people – particularly shoppers - to get around during the day. We’ll be working with other local businesses to offer better food and drink opportunities – with five of the six licensed premises in the block involved.”

However, Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, told The Scotsman traders that had been disappointed at the return of the tent and will be attending the transport committee next week to attempt to reverse the decision.

He said: “We had put forward our own proposals to take the Spiegeltent to St Andrew Square, and we’re not entirely clear why the officials don’t appear to have done any traffic modelling, as they have done for Tommy’s plans.

“Tommy has done some things to listen to businesses, and we welcome those. However, at the end of the day there’s no parking at all on this city block, limited access to stores and some traders have the tent right up to their shop front and they will be very closed in.”

Among the other concerns is the provision of food at outdoor venues.

Mr Neal added: “Tommy appears to be going into direct competition with these, despite earlier insisting he would not.

“We continue to be very disappointed at the recommendations by the council and there is a fair bit of angst about this. Our businesses pay their rates 12 months of the year, but the festival is only there for one month.

“In the original proposals a bar of this scale [located outside the tent] was never proposed by Tommy’s company when it bid to run the Assembly Rooms. This is a luxury rather than a necessity to support his business.”

City leaders have previously backed the move to take the festival to the city centre, have not commented on the rival St Andrew Square bid.

A final decision will be made at the Edinburgh City Council transport committee on Tuesday.