Ditch the market stalls and let local businesses benefit at Christmas – Kevin Buckle

Here’s my modest proposal for 2020’s winter festival – focus on rides, not retail opportunities, writes Kevin Buckle

Saturday, 4th January 2020, 6:00 am
Rides like the Star Flyer would still be popular without the market attached. Picture: Ian Rutherford

With Adam McVey the leader of Edinburgh City Council accepting that the 2020 winter festival may need to be significantly different from this year’s events it is time for all concerned to come up with positive alternatives and options rather than argue.

It is unfortunate that whenever they are confronted with controversy Underbelly seem to double down but surely moving forward they if nothing else need to listen to the council for whom they organise the festivities. In turn the council needs to accept that while without doubt there are some very vociferous interest groups involved there are also many unhappy local residents and businesses who just get on with things making the best of a situation that is by no means ideal without saying anything.

If you look at the history of Christmas markets in the UK they were often started in the nineties and were unsuccessfully run by councils, who then handed them over to operators who could take the risks but also of course make a profit.

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Certainly from what I can tell the Christmas market in Edinburgh started in the late-nineties with the good intention of bringing people into the city centre at a time when businesses were starting to struggle as footfall dropped and like many in the early years it struggled to succeed financially.

Interestingly the focus was very much on supporting local businesses, so when it was discovered that the Christmas parade was popular but actually hindered shopping the event was stopped.

While of interest none of this is relevant to today’s situation in which virtually all the parameters have changed. There is no doubt that huge amounts of money can now be made and it is a case of who makes that money and how much is put back into the city.

One thing that needs to be made very clear is where all the economic benefit so often spoken of goes to.

Sensibly the council should now be employing people to run the city’s events for them and keeping the profits for themselves, forgetting the difficulties of the past.

Personally I would dispense with the market stalls and temporary food outlets and concentrate on the rides and events. The feedback I have always received is that people enjoy the rides and indeed the ice rink when it was available but few thought the goods on sale or food available were of quality.

City centre food outlets have told me in the past that when they had complained they were told that they can’t cope with the visitor numbers. However there are far more places providing food now and I would suggest enough within a ten minute walk to cater for all the extra footfall.

Encouraging folk to wander just slightly further afield can only help with the serious congestion that this year caused the closure of Waverley Bridge and nobody is going to go hungry because of the need for a short walk. It is an ideal opportunity to promote all the local eateries and could easily be trialled this year.

As for the retail element there are hundreds of surrounding shops that have much more to offer than the generic Christmas market and while many will just wish to visit the rides and organised events and shop online there will be good numbers especially among visitors who want an interesting and varied retail experience and I have every confidence that local businesses would pull together to provide that.