Investigation launched after councillors 'not shown plans for Christmas market steel platform' amid Princes Street Gardens row
An investigation will be brought forward after it was revealed that councillors were not informed about a controversial steel platform being built in Princes Street Gardens without planning permission - while a two-year extension for Underbelly's Christmas market was signed off by culture chiefs without a executive committee seeing the "detailed designs", it has been revealed.
Council officials have been instructed to draw up an emergency report after the company behind the a Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens was handed a two-year contract extension, signed off by the culture convener and his deputy - without councillors being shown the design and size of a controversial steel platform structure yet to receive planning permission.
Planning officials have opened an “enforcement file” on Underbelly’s construction of its festive market in East Princes Street Gardens as no planning application has been submitted.
Last week, heritage watchdog, the Cockburn Association, called for the £110 million Christmas market not to open on November 16 as intended, unless a planning application is approved or another solution found.
Conservative city centre Cllr Jo Mowat, the convener of Edinburgh City Council's governance, risk and best value committee, tabled an emergency motion on Tuesday - which now requires officials to put together a report on process and timelines for the council's policy and sustainability committee on November 26.
She said: "The power with the council rests with the 63 elected officials. Any other actions are taken on our behalf through the scheme of delegation to officers. I'm not clear that process has been followed in a way that I think I can say I'm happy with that accountability.
"Whilst a decision in principle was taken by the culture and communities committee on June 18, it's very clear that did not address the increase in scale or what the plans were going to be."
In a briefing note sent to councillors, director of place Paul Lawrence confirmed that Underbelly "agreed to meet the capital costs" of the steel scaffolding, the subject of a public outcry - but "sought the agreement of a two-year extension to the contract to allow them time to recover the capital investment". The contract extension was given the thumbs-up by Mr Lawrence in discussion with culture and communities convener, Cllr Donald Wilson and his deputy, Cllr Amy McNeese-Mechan, and the decision, but not the "detailed design", was then retrospectively reported to councillors on the culture and communities committee in June.
Council leader, Cllr Adam McVey, said: “With the recent works, there are clearly more circumstances complicating the events than in previous years, but I know residents want assurance that the gardens are protected and the safety and comfort of all those attending are secured.
“Our Christmas festival is an extremely popular event that brings together attractions and experiences for a huge melting pot of our communities. However we accept there are issues with the configuration this year.
“Following the motion agreed at committee, we’ll now be taking a closer look at this at the forthcoming policy and sustainability committee. In addition, we’ll be looking at what scope the current contract gives us to address any issues identified in future years.”
This year's market will see a record 163 different stalls and bars erected across East Princes Street Gardens and The Mound precinct.
City centre Green Cllr Claire Miller, said: “East Princes Street Gardens is a beloved green space in the heart of the city. I am as shocked and appalled as residents are that Underbelly has built a platform across the entire park without consent and I strongly condemn the approach taken to delivering the Christmas events this year. Especially so in the context of controversial landscaping works which took everyone by surprise last year and resulted in an outcry from locals upset by the loss of valuable trees.
"I will be holding Underbelly and the council to account over this repeated failure to look after the gardens for the benefit of all. “
Underbelly declined to comment further on the issues raised in Mr Lawrence's briefing note.
In a statement released last week, a company spokesperson said: "Underbelly is now compiling its planning application which it will submit at the earliest possible opportunity.
"The scaffold currently going in allows the Christmas market to continue in the gardens while working round the ongoing changes to the landscape and also ensures we are taking every measure to protect the gardens.”