“Arms-length” firm could control half of Princes Street Gardens

Vision: It is hoped that the redesigned Ross Bandstand will be self-finacning and offer daily events.
Vision: It is hoped that the redesigned Ross Bandstand will be self-finacning and offer daily events.
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PLANS for a multimillion pound concert arena for Princes Street Gardens have taken a step forward after a developer offered to help bankroll part of the project.

Control of half of Princes Street Gardens could be handed by the city council to a new “arms-length” company when the concert arena is complete.

Management of the park which lies beneath Edinburgh Castle will be transferred under a proposed deal with a developer offering to help bankroll a replacement for the Ross Bandstand.

An official report for councillors reveals that “clarity” on the governance and operation of the arena is seen as a “prerequisite” to start fundraising and detailed design work on the £25 million project.

The new operator would be charged with deciding how many events are held under plans to create a “self-financing” model to run West Princes Street Gardens, which date back to the 1820s, and are expected to host daily events in future.

It will be responsible for the “day to day” management of the gardens, as well as 
maintaining all the proposed new facilities, including a cafe-bar and corporate hospitality spaces overlooking Edinburgh Castle.

The new company will have a similar model to Edinburgh Leisure, which runs sports centres, Transport for Edinburgh, which is responsible for bus and tram networks, and Capital Theatres, which runs the King’s and Festival theatres.

The setting up of the gardens operator will ensure the new facilities are profitable and do not need a public subsidy, while remaining free of council red tape. It is understood there has been agreement behind the scenes that will also be easier for the firm to attract commercial sponsors and events than if it remained under the control of the council.

It is thought the new company will be able to keep any income from the use of the gardens and the new Ross Pavilion, which will replace the existing structure, which was built in 1935. However West Princes Street Gardens would remain under the ownership of the council and councillors would have the final say on a “management plan” the new company would be told to adhere to.

The plan has been published by the council three months after it emerged that the businessman behind the arena had ordered it be put on hold because he was unhappy at the prospect of the authority continuing to run the park.

Norman Springford, the founder of Apex Hotels, said it was essential a “public-private partnership” took charge of the gardens once the new venue, which could be complete by 2021, is up and running.

A spokeswoman for the council admitted the idea was “a recent one” put forward in the wake of a series of workshops between the council and the Ross Development Trust.

Donald Wilson, culture convener at the city council, said: “This project has truly captured the public’s imagination and already we have worked with the Ross Development Trust to successfully complete an international design competition for the new Ross Pavilion, upgrade the Gardeners Cottage, and initiate the restoration of the Ross Fountain. If approved, the setting up of an arms-length external organisation would be an important next step.

A spokeswoman for the Ross Development Trust said the issue of who would be running the gardens was of “no relevance” to the competition to design the pavilion and visitor centre.