Consultation into future of Edinburgh's Christmas Market and Hogmanay delayed for foreseeable future

The consultation was set to ask how the events should look from 2022 onwards.

Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 7:30 am
Edinburgh's Christmas, Princes Street Gardens

The public will have to wait to have their say on what they want the future of Edinburgh’s Winter Festivals to look like after plans to shelve the consultation were announced.

A decision is likely to be made at a meeting of Edinburgh City Council’s Leadership Advisory Panel on Thursday to scrap the consultation into the Christmas Market and Hogmanay celebrations due to the coronavirus crisis.

The council has said the consultation will be suspended but has not but a date on when it might restart.

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It committed to undertaking the consultation in January following a winter of discontent around the festivals.

Both the council and contractors Underbelly faced months of sustained criticism about their handling of the scandal, including revelations around the lack of planning permission for the Christmas Market and the scale of Hogmanay.

In February, the Evening News reported how Underbelly director Charlie Wood threatened to cancel Edinburgh’s Christmas on three occasions, and how the council hid safety fears about the market from the public.

One of the festival’s fiercest critics, heritage body the Cockburn Association, said the delay to the consultation should be matched with a delay to the planning application for the Christmas Market.

Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “Given that the council is already meeting with the likes of ETAG, there is no reason why we should not be considering a wider discussion about the city, as was agreed last year, to continue that discussion.

“If we can conduct these things there is no reason why the city council can’t do so as well.

“If it is a problem then what we hope is the planning application won’t be considered until the wider civic discussion takes place.”

Mike Small of the grassroots campaign group Citizen Network said COVID-19 was a chance for Edinburgh to reassess its priorities.

He said: “The scale of the crisis is changing the city and changing our society.

“Politicians and people in positions of power seem to be behaving as if the only task they have is to get things back to normal as soon as is possible. This is so bizarre and untenable and inadequate it’s breathtaking.

“If there ever was an opportunity to take stock and re-make our city, it is now.

“Excluding people from consultation is the precise opposite of what we should be doing now.”

The leader of the Edinburgh Conservatives, Iain Whyte, said there were concerns whether a delayed consultation could be completed in time for the 2022 Winter Festival tender period.

He said: “It has to happen reasonably quickly. We have to know by around Spring 2021 what you are tendering which does not give you very long.

“We should delay it as long as we possibly can because I don’t think the people are in the mood for a consultation in the middle of a public emergency.”

Deputy leader of the council, Labour’s Cammy Day, said: “I’m sure the public would understand our limited resources are targeting frontline services, supporting older and vulnerable people, providing services and food parcels, and that the city’s winter consultations can wait.”

Council Leader Adam McVey said: “The Winter Festivals consultation is about making sure the future of these events match the City’s expectations. These consultations are crucial for gathering views from residents and local businesses but since the outbreak began, responses have dropped.

“While it’s impossible for us to gather views in a meaningful and accessible way at this time, I want to make sure everybody’s voices are heard and we will be looking to proceed with the consultation as soon as practicable.

“We promised a wide-reaching consultation with residents from across the city and other stakeholders on the future of Winter Festivals in the city and that is exactly what we intend to deliver, when the time is right. I’ll be setting out a clear position on our commitments around this with the Depute Leader on Thursday when we consider this report.”

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