Edinburgh's Ross Bandstand saga cannot be allowed to drag on indefinitely – Brian Ferguson

It is pretty much seven years to the day since an intriguing-looking email arrived in my inbox and set off a chain of events over one of Edinburgh's best-known but long-neglected assets.

Wednesday, 20th April 2022, 12:30 pm
The Quaich Project, which was proposed to replace the Ross Bandstand, was shelved during the pandemic.

The hotelier and former Edinburgh Playhouse boss Norman Springford was keen to go public with a proposal he had been putting to the city council but had been met with some resistance.

His idea sounded fairly simple, if somewhat ambitious.

He was prepared to put up several million pounds of his own money to help the city secure a long-awaited replacement for the increasingly dilapidated Ross Bandstand.

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The Quaich Project, which was proposed to replace the Ross Bandstand, was shelved during the pandemic.

Mr Springford was also aiming to kick-start the project by bankrolling an international competition to find a viable and suitable design and setting up a new charitable trust to take the scheme forward.

If alarm bells were ringing at his ambitions to help create Edinburgh’s equivalent of the Sydney Opera House or Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum, they were largely forgotten by the following year when the council agreed to take his ideas forward.

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By early August 2017, as the 70th anniversary celebrations for Edinburgh’s festivals were about to unfold, it seemed as if the project was on the cusp of actually being delivered.

A winning design, led by an American practice, had been chosen following the staging of a public exhibition of the shortlisted contenders. The entire process had largely avoided controversy.

But that was soon to change as the proposals gradually became more ambitious, amid claims the council was sanctioning the increasing commercialisation of the gardens.

The Quaich Project, as it had become known, was in serious trouble by the time Mr Springford walked away in February 2020, despite an insistence he would honour his promised £5m donation if the scheme was taken forward.

Little has been heard of the project since Covid forced the cancellation of Edinburgh’s festivals and venues.

But a walk through the gardens always offers a painful reminder that Scotland’s capital city is still lumbered with a historic cultural facility that is virtually unusable. Crucially, the bandstand’s concrete bowl takes up a significant amount of space which is inaccessible unless there is a large-scale event on.

Although pop and rock concerts are due to return to the gardens in August, the prospect of a permanent replacement for the bandstand being found has appeared to drift off the agenda lately, as other projects like the Royal High School redevelopment, the new concert hall off St Andrew Square, and the efforts to revive Leith Theatre have moved forward.

However that made the SNP’s local election manifesto all the more interesting.

Along with a pledge to ensure that Edinburgh’s festivals emerge from the pandemic “more sustainable and as vibrant as ever”, the SNP has promised to identify gaps in the city’s cultural infrastructure to ensure residents can “see their favourite bands and shows in their own city”, including a plan for the bandstand, “by local people and for local people”.

Given that the SNP seems to be the only partly remotely interested in reviving a possible replacement for the bandstand, it remains to be seen whether the idea will return to the starting blocks.

But if Edinburgh is serious about heritage, sustainability and its cultural reputation, it cannot afford the saga in the gardens to drag on indefinitely.