Edinburgh Council leader in plea for 'reasonable' discussion with city over Christmas market future

The council leader has insisted “it is just not accurate” to believe everyone in the city has the hump over a controversial Christmas market – with public opinion set to influence the future of festive celebrations in the Capital.

Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 7:45 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 9:22 am

A row erupted over this year’s Christmas market in East Princes Street Gardens after the company behind it, Underbelly, failed to secure planning permission – while a probe into whether Edinburgh City Council followed the correct processes in extending the firm’s contract will be discussed on Tuesday.

The council will launch a public consultation in the spring on the future of how Christmas and Hogmanay is celebrated – with a plea from council leader Cllr Adam McVey for people’s voices to be listened to.

He said: “It’s not lost on us that we need a conversation with the city about Christmas – we need to talk about Santa. There are drawbacks and benefits to the way we went about it this year.

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The Edinburgh Christmas market

“To suggest that there is one answer to this or one view held across the city is just not accurate. There is a deluge of positivity from people who are excited to visit this city, families who are excited to take their children to the Christmas celebrations that we do.”

He added: “We need a conversation with our citizens – but that has to be framed as a reasonable, responsible conversation for us all and be willing to listen to each other through that process.

“There can’t be a situation where a majority and substantial minority just go at loggerheads. We have to find a way of having that mature engagement across the capital city to work out how we take the best bits of how our capital city has become one of the international leaders for winter celebrations and how we manage those issues better.”

But Conservatives have questioned whether the SNP-Labour administration has been open with the public about the process that led to this year’s events – with Tory group leader, Cllr Iain Whyte asking why a “written report by officers” was not drawn up. He added that the document would have allowed the public to be “aware of the plans and to allow councillors to scrutinise plans before they are signed off”.

But Cllr McVey accused the Tories of “reinventing reality” by claiming “the information did not come forward”.

He added: “It’s his party’s fault that the right questions weren’t asked at the right time.”

But the Conservatives said the public needs confidence that transparent consultations and decisions are being made.

Cllr Whyte added: “It’s not about the nature of the event, it’s about the governance that this council puts in place and its processes to ensure that legal requirements, planning requirements and regulatory requirements are all in place.

“Given the fact so many things seem to be decided in private and under delegated authority, even where controversial, what is the leader going to do to ensure the city and our people can be aware of decisions going forward, can have a view on them and can ensure that they are properly scrutinised?”

The council’s policy and sustainability committee will consider a report drawn up as an investigation into whether the correct processes were followed and if decisions were taken correctly, when it meets on Tuesday/

Cllr McVey said: “The default position in my mind, whether it is a decision which is politically sensitive but under delegated authority or another form of decision, is that it should be taken in public.”

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