Edinburgh Council's business case for Princes Street Gardens paused for 'trust issues' to be addressed
Officials have been told to draw up more detailed plans in order to address “trust issues with the city” following a string of controversies relating to the iconic Princes Street Gardens.
Edinburgh City Council’s culture and communities committee unanimously agreed to pause approving its outline business case for the Quaich Project as part of the authority’s future vision for West Princes Street Gardens until more detailed information to presented that set out assumptions in the outline business case.
The Quaich Project would see the Ross Bandstand transformed into a new pavilion for performances and an amphitheatre replacing the existing concrete bowl - and will still go ahead as planned.
Community councillors highlighted “widespread growing public concern over the commercialisation of public space in Edinburgh” as they appealed for the outline business case to not be moved forward until fears are addressed and more information made public.
Over the festive period, a row erupted over permissions and processes relating to Underbelly’s Christmas Market in East Princes Street Market – while vocal residents raised concerns over West Princes Street Gardens being closed for events.
Carol Nimmo, speaking on behalf of community councils, said the organisations “broadly support the objectives of the Quaich Project” but are concerned the ambitious vision could lead to a “disproportionate scale of development”.
Ms Nimmo said that the business case has been brought forward due to “the chronic and systemic lack of investment in the gardens”, pointing the finger in particular at the Ross Bandstand.
She added: “We believe that this business case is nothing less than a roadmap to the over-commercialisation of West Princes Street Gardens, yet another example of the corporate culture now dominant in the council.”
David Ellis, director of the Quaich Project, moved to reassure the public that “the intent of this project is to not increase the number of those major events from what is currently there just now”.
The council’s senior manager for culture venues, Karl Chapman, confirmed that while there are currently five “major events” held each year, added up they become 15 days where the gardens are taken over by major events. This number of event days will remain the same in order to “help support community activities” which will be expanded under the plans.
He added: “This project is not about filling the place with rock and roll, it’s not about it becoming an entertainment centre. Its primary purpose is as a community space venue in an amazing location.”
But councillors, who all pledged support to the principle of the Quaich Project, raised concerns over a lack of details being made available and the public losing trust in the council’s management of Princes Street Gardens.
Conservative Cllr Phil Doggart said: “I think the real issue is not with the Quaich Project – I think people have an issue with the council and the responsibility of the council in terms of managing the space after the Quaich Project has walked away.”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Hal Osler added: “This is not doing a huge amount for our trust issues with the city. I feel deeply sorry for the Ross Development Trust because actually they have been caught up in something that isn’t their fault and isn’t their responsibility – when they are trying to deliver something that could have enormous benefit.”
The council’s culture and communities convener, Cllr Donald Wilson, said: “There are so many questions that have been posed that require more clarity. What we need is to delay this for a cycle for a report that addresses the clarity.
“There is a question of trust and the events of the last few months mean that there’s a greater emphasis on being very clear about the operation of this as it goes forward.”