The benefits of Edinburgh’s winter festivals are greater than you might think – Cllr Donald Wilson

Edinburgh is a major destination for festivals, but we recognise the need to strike the right balance between sustaining the success of such events and the impact on the city and its residents, writes Cllr Donald Wilson.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 6:00 am
Councillor Donald Wilson is convener of the culture and communities committee at Edinburgh City Council

There has been much discussion recently on the subject of our winter festivals. Without question, Edinburgh has become a world-renowned ‘place to be’ both at Christmas and Hogmanay – and not just for visitors.

Last year, more than 186,000 tickets were bought by Edinburgh residents with their 20 per cent discount (a 31 per cent increase on 2017), with 99 per cent of people surveyed rating ­Edinburgh’s Christmas very good or good and 96 per cent of locals surveyed telling us that the attractions were an important reason they came into the city centre that day.

Indeed, the benefits from ­Edinburgh’s Christmas reach further than you may think. In addition to part-funding the three-day ­Hogmanay festivities, income from Edinburgh’s Christmas has also funded improvements to our visitor services at the Scott Monument and City Art Centre and supported the seven-day operation of the city’s museums and galleries.

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There is also a huge focus and priority placed on community events and engaging with residents with free events like Light Night, the Nativity Carol Concert and Winter Windows, where our schools participate in an annual design competition. The events will yet again help us raise much-needed funds to tackle poverty and inequality as Underbelly continues its partnership with the OneCity Trust.

All that said, I want to reassure readers that we are not oblivious to the concerns raised by residents nor are we by any means ignoring them.

Preserving the Gardens

Edinburgh is not alone in the growing popularity of Christmas markets – they have become an established feature of the festive period across the UK, but we need to manage their ever-increasing popularity alongside the needs of our residents and businesses. 

As an example, the front page of this paper on Wednesday featured an image of infrastructure going into Princes Street Gardens, following some heated debate online. To be absolutely clear, and as announced back in June, this is a result of Underbelly’s commitment (to us and to the city) to ensure that the Gardens – including the areas benefiting from the National Galleries of Scotland’s improvement works – are preserved. Entirely at their expense.

However, through this process they have taken the opportunity to redesign the space, directly addressing concerns raised last year around large crowds and slow movement. The new layout will improve circulation of revellers, reducing pressure on the busiest areas and creating a more comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.

All year round, as a capital city and major destination for festivals and events, we recognise the need to strike the right balance between sustaining the success of our festivals against the impact on the city and our residents – which is why we are planning a broader conversation with residents about how we want our winter ­celebrations to look in future.

The time is right now to look at what residents want from Christmas and Hogmanay and that will form the basis of what we do in the future.

I hope everyone has the chance to enjoy our winter festivals and I look forward to an enlightening and ­valuable discussion next year.

Councillor Donald Wilson is convener of the culture and communities committee at Edinburgh City Council.