More than 700 attend meeting to discuss use of Edinburgh's green spaces amid Underbelly concerns

Cockburn Association holds debate on "City for Sale"

By Caitlyn Dewar
Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 6:56 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 7:27 am
This year's Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens was surrounded by controversy
This year's Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens was surrounded by controversy

MORE than 700 people turned out to an event held at Central Hall in Tollcross last night to protest at the use of Edinburgh’s public spaces for events including rock and pop performances and festivals.

The event, organised by the Cockburn Association, called “City for Sale: The Commodification of Edinburgh’s Public Spaces” came following the furore caused by the use of Princes Street Gardens for the annual Christmas market.

Organisers of the city’s Christmas Market initially came under fire when a huge “space deck” was put up by the city council’s contractors Underbelly without planning permission which was revealed by the Cockburn Association.

Residents were not impressed by the "space deck" constructed ahead of the Christmas Market - or the "mud bath" left afterwards

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502 Bad Gateway

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There was further fury after the site was removed, revealing that it turned Princes Street Gardens into a mud bath which will take more than three months to recover.

More than 2.6 million people visited the market, which was at East Princes Street Gardens for seven weeks.

The Evening News reported how council chiefs refused to release more than 600 emails relating to the controversy.

Last month, the Cockburn Association warned that the £25 million Quaich project to replace the existing Ross Bandstand will lead to the “overdevelopment” of the central section of the park and in a blog post on its website, the Association claims the gardens must be treated as “a public park where events are tolerated, not a performance area surrounded by gardens”.

Critis say the Quaich Project to redevelop the Ross Bandstand would amount to "overdevelopment" of the Gardens

Last night’s rowdy discussion, chaired by Stephen Jardine, set out to discuss “how we define our public spaces”.

Ahead of the meeting, the association posed the questions: “Should our parks and gardens be an oasis of green-ness and tranquility, or should they be the city’s performance hubs, the go-to places for happening events and Festival activities? Should civic spaces be open for the unrestricted access of city dwellers and city visitors alike; or should they be a gated venue accessible only to ticket holders and promoters?”

The Christmas Market is not their only concern though. The use of the gardens for other major events including Summer Sessions concerts, Fly Open Air festival, the Hogmanay concert and the festival fireworks finale are also under fire.

The discussion began just after 7pm when chairman and broadcaster, Stephen Jardine opened the discussion. Four speakers were invited to discuss their expertise on the privatisation of public spaces, health and wellbeing, sustainability and common good land.

Attendees were invited firstly to focus on their feelings about use of green spaces and streets and then to discuss possible solutions of where to go next.

The input from the evening will be used by the Cockburn Association to help shape their responses to the council and inform planning applications.

Ahead of the anticipated and animated discussion Mr Jardine asked for “positive and constructive points” and in the first floor discussion he shut down a heckler speaking over Seona Price from the Ross Development Project of West Princes Street Gardens.

Ms Price stated that the Quaich Project’s vision was to “make improvements to Princes Street Gardens West” which was met with exasperation across the room.

Mr Jardine advised that all viewpoints were welcome.

Ms Price added that improvements that could be made were to make the gardens more accessible as there is currently no safe access point to the west side.

Chair of the Cockburn Association Cliff Hague was up next discussing the heritage group’s view on local issues involving not just events, but Summer Streets and disruption from filming.

He said: “Public open space is ours, and should remain so.”

Following the first discussion Dr Michelle Hipwell spoke about green open spaces for health and wellbeing followed by Mariana Trusson on Sustainable public space and environmental wellbeing.

Lothian Green MSP Andy Wightman then weighed in on common good land, giving a brief history of the common good and proposed that residents should take back the land.

Throughout the evening there were cheers in favour of the proposed tourist tax and concerns were raised about accessibility to Edinburgh during peak times, the impact of losing green spaces on mental wellbeing and the cost versus benefit of city-wide events.

The final point in the discussion came from Councillor Lezley Marion Cameron who said: “As a councillor myself I support this in general. It greatly worries me that things like AirBnB are a public safety hazard, and I am outraged at the bench burning.

“We need more funding, Edinburgh is the lowest funded city in Scotland.

“More funding needs to go towards transport and social care as well as parks and leisure spaces.”

Professor Hague added that their group didn’t hate festivals and events, he reiterated the Cockburn Association’s view that events within the city should be properly managed and planned and include consulting with Edinburgh residents.

Terry Levinthal, the Cockburn Association’s director thanked those who had given up their Wednesday evening to attend. He added: “There has been some media that has said that we are just ‘nimbys’ or ‘curtain twitchers’, that is not the case. 850 of you here tonight shows that this is a genuine concern for the wellbeing and future of our city.”

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