Edinburgh Festival's return marred by dirty, litter-strewn streets where rats and gulls fight for leftovers – Jo Mowat

The annual Festivals versus the World Heritage site stooshie erupted in the press last week.

By Jo Mowat
Monday, 30th August 2021, 4:55 am
Edinburgh needs to get a grip on its weed problem
Edinburgh needs to get a grip on its weed problem

As we start to plan for the future post-Covid, some clear thinking about what the city is and what we want is needed. Edinburgh has World Heritage status because it is special.

You don’t have to travel to very far to understand this. Edinburgh shows contrasting examples of how to build a city. The medieval part is tight, constrained, sheltering in the lee of the castle and is built upwards to cram as many people as possible into the safety of the city walls.

The Enlightenment expansion of the New Town is planned and rational, contrasting with the huggermugger building of the Old Town.

The Festival began as the city wanted to reach out to the world after the dark days of the Second World War to bring people together through excellence in artistic form. It aimed to rebuild friendships and focus on creativity, rather than the destruction of the previous years.

Since then, it has grown substantially and, in the International Festival and Fringe, reflects the dualism that runs like the seams of igneous rock through the city. A tightly planned and curated festival surrounded by a chaotic, open-entry extravaganza of shows.

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Edinburgh has always been a city of debate, which perhaps explains why, when we have both a spectacular built form and amazing Festivals, we spend time every year trying to decide who is responsible for the challenges posed by increased visitor numbers.

Let us agree that both Festivals and the city’s heritage are valuable legacies we have inherited from those who lived in and ran the city of Edinburgh before us.

We should revel in our bounty and turn our attention to how we manage the challenges that this excellence poses and try to respond to that with excellence of our own.

The Festivals are responding and have stated this week that attendances will not be the measure of success in the future.

Edinburgh World Heritage is producing a discussion paper on mainstreaming heritage management.

Whilst I recognise there will be many other bodies involved, not least the tourism industry, the voice that seems to be missing is that of the council. What will our response be?

Every year I write that better management is needed to address the challenges thrown up by managing what is excellent.

I still believe this to be the case and hope that the enforced break that Covid produced will provide the impetus for us to do this.

I am concerned that this year whilst the Festivals and businesses have, by necessity, changed and innovated, the council seems to have vacated the space.

From the council’s point of view, the job hasn’t changed – provide a clean, safe, blank canvas onto which the magic brought by the Festivals can be displayed.

This year the canvas is dirty, overgrown with weeds, and bins remain unemptied with rats and gulls fighting over their bounty.

Streets supposedly closed for pedestrians to enjoy are traffic-filled and rubbish-strewn.

That the Festival has happened at all is a huge achievement that those involved in making it happen should take pride in.

Resident or visitor, a clean, safe city is important and it is time for the council to make delivering this its priority.

Joanna Mowat is Conservative councillor for Edinburgh City Centre ward

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