Greyfriars Kirkyard Edinburgh: Claims big tour operators 'trashing' graveyard should pay for repairs

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Big tour operators bring in 'hundreds of thousands' to the Kirkyard every year.

Big commercial tour groups visiting Greyfriars Kirkyard should pay a 'gate' fee to the council to help pay for repairs, according to local guides.

It's claimed the site has been 'trashed' in the last few years by bigger operators, which bring in dozens in groups several times a day.

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Tour guide Fraser Parkinson who takes small groups to the graveyard says charging bigger groups would bring in enough to cover the cost of repairs and fund improved health and safety measures. He's also calling for group numbers to be capped to protect the historic site.

Every tour guide pays £150 to the council for a permit but Mr Parkinson says this is 'unfair' and results in cash-strapped Edinburgh council subsidising the 'significant' profits of large, commercial tour operators.

It comes as the council is consulting the public on the future of the world-famous graveyard, which has seen a surge in visitors in recent years due to its connections with JK Rowling's Harry Potter series.

Blue Badge tour guide Mr Parkinson said: "Large groups operated by companies who bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year are making significant profits from using the graveyard as a business venue. The repair and maintenance of Greyfriars is required because of the footfall caused by large commercial tours running multiple groups per day. It's hundreds of thousands of people a year."

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Calls for big tour operators to pay more to fund repairs of Greyfriars KirkyardCalls for big tour operators to pay more to fund repairs of Greyfriars Kirkyard
Calls for big tour operators to pay more to fund repairs of Greyfriars Kirkyard

"I take a maximum of 30 people per year to the graveyard. Big groups take in that many three or four times every day. It's like a circus at times. The grounds have been trashed in the last few years and the need for upkeep of the grounds is caused by the large footfall. It's time to bring in a cap on the size of groups allowed at one time so it doesn't impinge on others using the graveyard and cause further damage."

The site has suffered persistent vandalism over the years with a large number of old headstones and memorials being cleared from the graveyard.

Under the current consultation, proposals have been put forward to put up permit fees to £157. But it's claimed this will fall well short of what's needed for upkeep of the grounds. Last year the council was paid just £45,000 from the fees.

It has sparked calls for visitors to pay a small 'gate' charge of £3 on top of the ticket for tours, in order to generate enough for upkeep of the grounds.

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Mr Parkinson added: "Pushing up the permit cost to £157 for tour guides won't come even close to covering the costs of repair and maintenance of the site. This is crazy and an opportunity missed. The small increase will not match the annual costs of repair and maintenance in the coming year.  As a result a cash-strapped council will be once more subsidising the profits made through commercial use of others.  This money comes from residents and is being taken away from local services. It's alarming."

"Charging tour groups an extra few quid per head would generate more than enough money to cover repairs. Greyfriars attracts over a million visitors a year. If those on tours paid a fee then the council would be in profit."

The per head charge would only be applied to tour groups and not for those visiting independently. However, it's suggested they could be encouraged to make a donation.

Fears have also been voiced about health and safety. Mr Parkinson added: "Despite groups of 40 people using the site on tours there is no health and safety risk assessment sought. Group numbers should be limited to 20 for safe people management in a crowded space."

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Under the consultation on Edinburgh burial grounds, proposals to increase permit fees will be presented to the Culture and Communities Committee on February 29.

The council has been contacted for comment.

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