Kevin Buckle: Christmas is cancelled (well, maybe just the market)

I was chatting to one long-standing Old Town business recently and they came up with the startling suggestion that next year maybe the Christmas market should be cancelled.

Saturday, 3rd November 2018, 5:00 am
Many all-year-round traders question the wisdom of staging a Christmas market that hits their takings. Picture: Scott Louden
Many all-year-round traders question the wisdom of staging a Christmas market that hits their takings. Picture: Scott Louden

The logic was that while nobody seems to know how much money is spent at all those Christmas stalls given how expensive they are and the fact traders keep returning it has to be substantial. What if all that money was spent with local businesses that traded all year?

They didn’t want all the rides and attractions to go, just the money-taking stalls selling food and non-food items. I have read the economic justification for the market which is about as statistically flawed as could be possible.

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Put simply, while a Christmas market is something that people will go to while visiting there are very few across all of Europe that are so good that they can be considered a reason for folk visiting. Even worse, the economic multiplier used dating from decades ago actually claims businesses around the market benefit rather than lose business.

Over the years several food traders have told me that when they have complained to the council about losing business they have been told that extra food retailers are needed to stop the large queues there used to be. Funnily enough they remember queues but nothing excessive and ironically the biggest queues you see now are at the temporary food stalls.

Speaking to businesses since, every one was keen on a year without the market. Not all were against a market per se but thought the only way to see what would happen would be for the market to have a year out. Most actually felt it should then return but using what had been learned from the experience.

Myself I certainly feel a market of some description could be an asset to the Christmas and New Year celebrations but it has to be one that doesn’t drain income from the surrounding businesses and that is never going to be easy.

It has been suggested existing businesses should be given the first chance of stalls but the last thing nearby businesses need is to have extra overheads when they already trade close by.

While the market stalls have such high overheads it will severely limit the sort of businesses that apply and that has to be something that is looked at in the future if things are to change.

With all that is going on there really needs to be more goodwill shown to local residents and businesses alike and indeed the festivities should be of benefit to all of Edinburgh. It is after all the season of goodwill!

Stalls on the site where trees were felled is not a good look

I do try and see things from both sides on issues and last week I did feel the cropped pictures of the felled trees in Princes Street Gardens didn’t give the wider picture of how things looked, but even then I felt it had been badly handled.

Fast forward a week and things look a whole lot worse as locals see Christmas market stalls being erected where the trees had been. National Galleries of Scotland have said that removing the trees and the stalls being built are not connected, but what is certain is that it could never be in doubt that people would suspect the worst. All those involved, if they had the slightest idea about not making a bad situation worse, would have pre-empted the inevitable storm by making a statement available or at least having one ready to go immediately comments appeared.

There was further criticism as detailed by community newspaper The Broughton Spurtle that allegedly “explicit rules to protect the roots of the remaining trees have not been followed”. Now it is too soon to say if this is true or not but certainly given how badly handled the whole thing has been people have the right to suspect that things are not maybe as they should be.

To finish, I really can’t put it any better than The Spurtle: “In many ways, this is a perfect Edinburgh storm. It involves the perceived lofty unaccountability of institutions, the ravaging of civic space, the apparent willingness of the council to forsake its parks in favour of private enterprise, and the prioritisation of touristic entertainment over public amenity.”

Have your say on reshaping the New Town

George Street along with Castle Street, Frederick Street and Hanover Street need your input! Barely a week goes by these days that some plan for the city centre doesn’t need the public to get involved and last week was no exception with the launch of the George Street and New Town redesign.

It is never easy to paraphrase council speak so this is what they say:

“The design aims to create a vibrant area with a world-class street environment that is safe for all users. It will enhance its use for pedestrians while prioritising active travel for all.

“The project builds on previous input from residents, businesses and interested parties. We adopted the design principles following a trial last year to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists on George Street.”

They are keen to get as many people involved as possible and to this end they are having drop-in events on the fifth floor of the City Art Centre on Market Street

Council officers and the project’s design team will be available to answer questions once you’ve got your breath back from the ascent – although I should point out there is the option of a lift just as you walk in.

Initial concept designs will be on view and people will be able to give that all-important feedback. There will also be an online survey that appears to have not started yet but is promised for November.

Excitingly, this will all link into the City Centre Transformation project.

The dates for the drop-in event are Thursday, November 8 (2pm-7pm); Friday, November 9 (11am- 5pm); and Saturday November 10 (10am-4pm).