Edinburgh's Festival Village beer garden in Princes Street faces closure after three-year extension refused
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A popular Edinburgh city centre beer garden faces permanent closure after the council rejected a bid for it to continue operating. The ‘Festival Village’ has occupied Waverley Market’s rooftop plaza on and off for the past five years but could soon have to clear out over concerns about its “negative” impact on the area.
Pop-up bars, food stalls and seating areas have dominated the space at the east end of Princes Street, mainly during summer and Christmas festival seasons, since temporary planning permission was first granted in 2017. However, an application for a three-year extension was thrown out as council planners said the Village “fails to preserve” the character and appearance of the city centre.
The arrival of Festival Village has transformed the plaza into a popular party place, where large groups can turn up without a booking, sample food and drink from local businesses and enjoy live music courtesy of local artists. Smugglers Spirits and Secret Garden Gin are among the beer garden’s current traders, while street food from Pizza Geeks, Say Cheese and Butcher Boy is also on offer.
Moorgarth Group, which runs Edinburgh’s Festival Village alongside one in Glasgow, said in plans seeking renewal of consent for the temporary structures that “significant economic benefits” have been delivered by the Village “to the city as a whole” with 425 people employed there in 2021/22.
It saidd: “The Village also provides an important opportunity for existing Mall tenants to showcase their products on the rooftop and to draw people into the Mall itself, boosting their sales as well as those of others in the Mall.
“It has operated for five years without receiving any complaints from neighbouring businesses or residents. In addition, the Festival Village employs only local musical performers, providing a unique opportunity for young and aspiring acoustic acts to showcase their talent to a worldwide audience, thereby offering cultural benefits to the city.”
‘The overall impact is negative’
The council originally gave it the go-ahead for two years in 2017 – but due to the Scottish Government’s decision to relax planning rules for hospitality during Covid-19, the attraction was able to remain open beyond the expiration date during the pandemic when restrictions allowed.
Following Ministers’ decision to end Holyrood’s ‘pragmatic and flexible approach’ to temporary developments in September, a bid for Festival Village to stay for another three years was lodged.
However, the local authority rejected the plans on Friday (December 9). The decision could spell the end of the Village’s time on the roof of Waverley Market, and is likely to spark speculation about what’s next for the plaza.
The council said in its letter to the applicant: “The proposal fails to preserve the character and appearance of the New and Old Towns Conservation Areas and has an adverse impact on the setting of adjacent listed buildings. As such, the overall impact is negative.
“In addition – there is a negative impact on the outstanding universal value of the Old and New Town of Edinburgh World Heritage Site. There is therefore a statutory presumption against planning permission being granted. The potential benefits of the proposal in economic terms would not justify the harm being done.”
The Festival Village and Moorgarth Group were contacted for comment.