Does Edinburgh really want boozefest theme park for Christmas? – Stephen Jardine

Edinburgh’s city centre is at a turning point. Do we want to turn it into a theme park for making money or is there a different way ahead, wonders Stephen Jardine.

Saturday, 5th October 2019, 7:45 am
A long exposure photograph captures Scott Monument along side the 60 metre high Sky Flyer fairground ride which lights up Edinburgh's Christmas skyline in Princes Street Gardens. (Picture: SWNS)

Apologies, but I’m going to use the C word. It may only be the start of October but that means there are only 81 days until Christmas. Right now, the owners of The Dome on Edinburgh’s George Street will be asking themselves, is it too early for the decorations? As ever, the answer will be, no.

Elsewhere, the organisers of the Christmas and New Year celebrations are pondering their future. Underbelly was awarded the contract for both events in 2017 but now they say the future of the Hogmanay celebrations is at risk if there is a clampdown on commercialism in Princes Street Gardens over the festive period. Put simply, reduce the revenue from Christmas and Hogmanay is under threat.

“This is about whether people want Princes Street Gardens to be used for Edinburgh’s Christmas,” Underbelly director Charlie Wood told The Scotsman. “If they don’t, that’s fine. We can move on and the city can move on. If you don’t have East Princes Street Gardens, then you don’t have Edinburgh’s Christmas, and you don’t have Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. That’s the bottom line.”

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Now the thin-skinned might think that sounds like a bit of a threat but since we are talking about Christmas, let’s stay cheery. I did until I read the next quote. “Christmas is a commercial event. We are advocates of that. Commercialisation is not necessarily a bad word, if it is used correctly and if it is used to help support other events like Hogmanay,” Mr Wood said. Now the very thin-skinned might think Christmas is a religious event that has been corrupted into a commercial one but again, let’s stay festive. Actually, let’s not. The reason this issue has surfaced now is because Edinburgh councillors have ordered a review of the festivities in response to concerns about their impact on the city.

Drunkenness and overcrowding

Last year social media featured numerous complaints about drunkenness, overcrowding and poor quality produce at exorbitant prices in the Christmas event area. Add the concern about the exploitation and privatisation of public spaces at other times of the year and the council felt obliged to look at the issue. That’s their job and they should be free to do that in a proper, measured way. City residents expect no less.

Even a decade ago Edinburgh festive celebrations looked very different so has it grown too big too fast? “The Christmas event supports the city.

If you didn’t have one you wouldn’t have a busy city centre. That’s why most cities in Britain, and Europe, have Christmas celebrations,” Mr Wood added.

That’s true but those celebrations look very different. Last December I was in Estonian capital Tallin which has roughly the same population as Edinburgh. The medieval central square had a beautiful traditional Christmas market but it was a microcosm of what we have. It also wasn’t awash with booze.

From the Festival in August to the festive season, Edinburgh city centre is at a turning point. Do we want it to be a theme park for making money whenever and however or is there a different way ahead? Alongside what we want for Christmas, that is something we need to decide.