Edinburgh Festival season doesn’t mean summertime blues for residents – Cllr Adam McVey
Together the festivals create a season and a place like no other, with the cultural benefits giving us access to performers and shows that we’d otherwise have to travel the world to find.
If the warmer weather and sound of the Jazz and Blues Festival is warming you up for August, then you’re part of the overwhelming number of residents who say the festivals make Edinburgh a better place to live. But for many people and for our city’s infrastructure, the festivals can also bring challenges.
At its busiest, there can be thousands of shows in hundreds of venues and unfortunately, sometimes these shows can be inaccessible.
To improve this, venues are making much greater efforts over the coming weeks to offer more accessible locations, with a wide range of inclusive events featuring sign language, audio-descriptions and relaxed performances. We’re also spreading the festivals beyond the city centre this summer and into our communities, with jazz and blues events in Gorgie and the return of International Festival concerts to the Leith Theatre.
Of course, despite these measures being better than ever - and they are - Edinburgh has hot spots which can make travelling tricky for those with a disability and residents going about their daily business, in the Old Town in particular.
This year, VisitScotland estimates Edinburgh will be enjoyed by 4.2m visitors and I am proud that we welcome the world with open arms every summer to come and celebrate with us.
If politics at home and abroad have taught us anything in recent years, it’s to hold on to this precious piece of Edinburgh and celebrate just how forward-thinking, inclusive and welcoming our city’s place in the world really is, while understanding the immense pressures this popularity brings.
It is also a lie that our summer events are enjoyed by tourists only – by and large they are enjoyed by locals too and things like the Festival Wheel are not only enjoyed by tens of thousands of residents each year but bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds, which we are reinvesting into our fantastic parks around the city.
Every year this council undertakes a major operation to keep the city safe, clean and moving. The planning involved is immense and we’re always working on getting the balance right and fighting for more powers to get the tools we need. So, it was disappointing that earlier this month, CNN released a study which named Edinburgh as suffering from ‘over-tourism’.
We recognise there can be a lot of inconvenience, but more is being done than ever before to manage that. Our challenge is not our tourists, our challenge is how we manage the impacts of this tourism and of our events and already we’ve taken moves towards improving the balance of our residents’ needs.
Some of these will be felt this summer and others will take longer to take hold. But the scale of these preparations shouldn’t be forgotten.
Keeping Edinburgh looking its best, we’ll have an additional 60 street cleansing workers and extra resources so that Edinburgh is better able to cope with the clear up.
And we’re making major changes to traffic with Summertime Streets, a series of measures which will launch on 28 July to address safety concerns and ease pressure on crowded areas in the old town, also making Edinburgh more pedestrian and cycle friendly.
Not only have we led a successful national discussion on a transient visitor levy and await Scottish Government legislation which will define the exact scope of the council’s powers, we’re leading the way in the UK in tackling poorly managed short-term lets, working with government on the introduction of a regulatory system.
All while working towards Edinburgh’s new tourism strategy, which we’ll conclude in six months’ time - this will guide our city’s tourism plans for the next decade and clearly set out a change in emphasis from promoting tourism in general, to managing the resident and visitor experience for the benefit of Edinburgh and Scotland.
Edinburgh is the best at what it does in August, having been the world’s festival city for more than 70 years, but we also have a responsibility to manage the impacts which are felt by residents.
I’m confident the bold measures we’re putting in place now, and those we’re working towards, will help us all enjoy everything our festivals have to offer us.
n Adam McVey is the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council