Why is Edinburgh so po-faced? A city is not a museum! – Susan Dalgety

I make no apologies for returning to a favourite bugbear of mine – Edinburgh’s passive-aggressive planners who want to preserve the city in aspic, or at least return it the 1930s.
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Their latest daft decision is their refusal to give a city-centre pop-up entertainment venue a three-year extension. Festival Village sits atop Waverley Market, and is usually packed full of Edinburgh folk and tourists, enjoying a drink at Secret Garden Gin or a bite to eat from one of the venue’s street food stalls.

But if city planners get their way, it will soon have to call time on its customers. The beer garden’s appeal to stay on the site has been roundly rejected by the local review board. Po-faced councillors decided the venue was not in keeping with the area.

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One city councillor, Neil Gardiner, went as far as to say that he didn’t think it was good enough for the World Heritage site. “We could do so much better,” he added, noting there’s a lot of empty property on Princes Street. “Let’s see that re-used for leisure,” he opined, “and not this thing… it’s not good enough for the City of Edinburgh.”

The police disagreed, providing a letter of support for the application saying that the venue had reduced anti-social behaviour in the area. And I doubt if the 400-plus people employed at Festival Village – from tradespeople to sound engineers – will be impressed by the review board’s hardline stance.

This thoughtless decision – which I can only put down to yet another outbreak of po-faced nimbyism – ignores the basic fact about cities. They are living things, changing from decade to decade, even day to day. Of course, Edinburgh must preserve its built heritage. The Old Town skyline is one of the most famous city landscapes in the world, and the New Town remains a masterclass in urban planning – but cities are not museums. They are where people live and work, and yes, enjoy a pint and a pizza after work or on a weekend break.

The Festival Village vote came hard on the heels of the revelation that one New Town homeowner had been forced to re-paint her front door from pink to green because her favourite colour offended the planners’ sense of order.

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And a new food market at the Omni Centre has just been told to remove a pink neon sign from its entrance because, according to planning officials, it compromises public safety. But I suspect the real reason is because a heritage group said it was “visually intrusive”.

Edinburgh's ‘Festival Village’ could soon be forced to closeEdinburgh's ‘Festival Village’ could soon be forced to close
Edinburgh's ‘Festival Village’ could soon be forced to close

It is so smugly middle-class Edinburgh that an advertising sign can be considered offensive. But hardly surprising in a city where working-class residents were pushed out of the centre to badly built tower blocks in Wester Hailes and Craigmillar, while planners protected the integrity of Georgian town houses and Victorian villas.

But progress has a way of circumventing even the most puffed-up council official. I hope that the Moorgarth Group – owners of the Festival Village – appeal to the Scottish Government for permission to stay open. And if it is granted, they should invite the local review board for a beer and burger to celebrate.

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