Kevin Buckle: Why does Edinburgh accept a festive shanty town?

The Irish theme bar was rejected by the citys planning committee. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Irish theme bar was rejected by the citys planning committee. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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As I’ve said before when commenting on the goings-on in Edinburgh, it is very hard not to repeat yourself. This week certainly proved that point with planning for the Festival Village on top of Waverley Mall before the planners.

It was interesting to see that the planners have now redefined “temporary” to mean “any time it looks like business is going to be at its best”.

Joanna Mowat, the Conservative councillor for the city centre, questioned why the “village” would be operating for the best part of four months each year when her understanding was that temporary meant no more than 28 days in the year.

The answer was that 28 days just wasn’t enough to cover the Christmas and New Year period and, hey, once the rules are broken why not go the whole hog?

With the village – or shanty town as its critics like to call it – divided into four, it was decided that a split decision would be allowed.

The most visible structure, Malones on the Mall, which was also the most contentious having drawn complaints from locals and tourists alike, was one zone so it was possible to agree to the other three spaces being used but not the area for Malones.

After further discussion, this split option was the one comfortably passed by the committee.

The council planners had no problems with any of the village and had recommended all four zones be allowed so it was interesting that the committee gave them a bloody nose.

Of course, what nobody really took into account was whether the village was necessary at all.

Edinburgh is not short of pubs and has seen many new eating places open in the last five years. It is quite obvious that all the village does is take business, particularly visitors, from others.

Instead of them discovering places no more than five or ten minutes from Princes Street to both eat and drink, they end up not leaving the main drag.

There was some discussion about the look of the village with the general opinion being it looked no worse than the rest of the temporary festive stalls and rides. That they all look a bit tacky didn’t seem to matter.

Interestingly, in Paris, councillors had cancelled their own market for being too tacky. The market on the Champs-Élysées was declared unattractive with no place in the City of Lights, causing protests from the stallholders.

Certainly I have met many visitors who have been disappointed by the ubiquitous nature of Edinburgh’s Christmas offering but there are no signs that any of the people involved understand what it is that makes Edinburgh so special and how that can be incorporated into the Christmas and New Year festivities.

I do wonder in these times when every penny counts how much Edinburgh council make from the village being given a prime location.

As Sir Alan Sugar pointed out in the latest task on The Apprentice, the winning team triumphed by taking a five per cent cut of the Belgian chocolate sales from the party they brought in.

A similar cut of the Festival Village turnover would seem more than reasonable!