Steve Cardownie: You don’t mess with a winning formula

A street performer wears a rubber glove on his head during his act on the Royal Mile. Picture: PA
A street performer wears a rubber glove on his head during his act on the Royal Mile. Picture: PA
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Now that the August festival offering is over it affords interested parties a wee bit of breathing space to pause and reflect on what was another record-busting feast of culture.

Some have already rushed to print to misguidedly call for the number of festival events to be reduced in August and held on other months of the year. Not only is it misguided, it flies in the face of the evidence that it is exactly because there is so much to experience in Edinburgh in August that attracts such huge audiences and visitors from abroad.

A chimps' tea party at Edinburgh Zoo - or is it the squabbling Cardownie siblings?

A chimps' tea party at Edinburgh Zoo - or is it the squabbling Cardownie siblings?

It is not as though nothing was going on in the city outside of August already. We currently boast 11 major festivals throughout the year – the Edinburgh International Festival, Fringe Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Art Festival, Book Festival, Storytelling Festival, Edinburgh Hogmanay, Science Festival, Children’s Festival, Film Festival and the International Jazz and Blues Festival – only a few of which are held in the month of August.

In particular the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world with more than 50,000 performances of over 3000 shows spread over 300 venues.

The impact on the economy of the city of the 11 festivals is approximately £316m and they support the full-time equivalent of 5242 jobs. Over the piece the city welcomes audiences of more that 4.5 million, second only to the Olympic games.

The Festivals Impact Study (published July 2016) and the Edinburgh People’s Survey (published March 2017) threw up some remarkable findings - 94 per cent of visitor festival-goers feel that the festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh special as a city; 92 per cent stated that the festivals were ‘must see’ events that gave them the chance to see things they would not otherwise see; 89 per cent of local festival-goers agreed that the festivals increased their pride in Edinburgh as a city and 80 per cent of local people believe the festivals make Edinburgh a better place to live. This last finding surely nails the falsehood that they are an encumbrance.

Of course, with huge numbers of visitors arriving in the city at one time there will be challenges which have to be addressed, but if we are to take ourselves seriously as a major player in the world of tourism, these challenges should be embraced as welcome demands and not as inconveniences.

One of the major players in the Festival Fringe, Underbelly are revelling in this year’s performance figures. With 291,000 tickets sold (a 17 per cent increase on last year), presenting 150 shows across 16 venues it has been a record-setting year.

Charlie Wood, Underbelly co-director, stated: “People always ask what makes Edinburgh such a great location. What’s the secret ingredient? No-one really knows – it’s a unique and intoxicating blend of ideas and events, no-one’s been able to replicate it because no-one knows the recipe. But one thing’s for sure, people come to Edinburgh in August for the heady mix of the summer festivals, to spread them thinner would lose that special something that sets us apart from the rest of the world.”

Every year we hear the siren voices of the ‘doomsayers’ who seek to detract from what is Edinburgh’s outstanding reputation as the host of the major international cultural extravaganza bar none.

These should be resisted and to others who would tinker with festival schedules, beware that you may be in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

To coin a well worn phrase: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Monkeying around in Leith

I had cause to visit some of my old haunts over the weekend and found myself walking along Burlington Street in Leith.This was the street where I was born and although much changed from the tenement properties that existed when I was a bairn, the cobbles were the same and it was strange to think that I had walked on them all those years ago.

I have two younger sisters and two older brothers and sibling squabbles were an everyday occurrence. In fact, the chimpanzees from Edinburgh Zoo used to run a bus doon tae oor hoose tae watch us having oor tea!

RHS practice is tougher than theory

With the unanimous decision last week to refuse planning permission for the proposed development of The Royal High School site into a hotel, it is difficult to see where the developers can now go.

I note that they said they would continue to press the case for such a proposal to be granted, but given that the committe comprised a majority of councillors who were only elected in May and have a five-year term to serve, it looks likely to be an uphill battle (pun intended).

The developers were indeed enlisted by the council to bring forward suggestions for a hotel development that would re-invigorate the site and bring the Hamilton Building into re-use, but the practice is proving to be far more difficult than the theory.

It seems obvious to all that while the principle may have been sound, once the proposals landed on planners’ desks they must have shrunk back in horror, and once they had composed themselves, proceeded to recommend that the application be refused.

It will be interesting to see if a compromise can be reached or whether the developers will throw in the towel, leaving the field open to St Mary’s Music School.

The ball will then be in their court (apologies for the sporting phrases) and they will be expected to live up to the challenge and deliver their project, of which they are so confident.

How will they all defend the indefensible?

Today was the day I was to attend the Tram Inquiry to speak about the city tram project, what I thought about it and my role in the process. That was until I received notice that my hearing had been postponed and would be rescheduled. Other participants from the council at the time the tram line was approved are, however, due to appear this week . . .

All of these politicians were firm supporters of “the tram” at the time. What I would give to be a fly on the wall at these meetings – “pleading the fifth” is not an option in this country so it would interesting to hear just how they can defend their support for a project that, as we all know to our cost, was concluded way over time and astronomically over budget.