Calton Hill ban on Edinburgh's Hogmanay revellers lifted after council climbdown

Hogmanay revellers will be allowed back onto one of Edinburgh's best-known landmarks after a controversial ban was over-turned in the wake of a public outcry.

Wednesday, 12th October 2016, 11:57 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:56 pm
Calton Hill offers one of the best vantage points for watching the Hogmanay fireworks.

City council chiefs sparked anger days before last year’s festivities by announcing that Calton Hill would be closed off for six hours over the bells for safety reasons.

Organisers of the festivities have agreed to pay for stewards and change a firing zone for the Hogmanay fireworks after a review of last year’s event, which was overshadowed by the row.

The move to seal off one of the most popular vantage points for the celebrations sparked an angry backlash in the run-up to the event, which still had thousands of tickets left to sell at the time.

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Growing numbers of revellers heading up the hill rather than attending the city’s all-ticket street party and their close proximity to a firing site for the Hogmanay fireworks were blamed for the decision.

Organisers said there had been growing concerns for public safety because the hill was unlit and uneven underfoot, even though Calton Hill is also deployed for the torchlight procession curtain-raiser to the three-day Hogmanay festival.

It was also understood that there had been no serious injuries suffered by revellers on Calton Hill, which also hosts the city’s Beltane Fire Festival, in the 22 previous years the celebrations had been running.

Senior councillors and officials were kept in the dark over the ban, agreed in early November by the council with festival producers Unique Events and Police Scotland, but not announced until 22 December.

It is understood changes are being made to this year’s fireworks display on Calton Hill to address the health and safety concerns which led to the ban.

The cost of providing stewards to monitor the crowds on Calton Hill will also be coming out of the overall event budget.

The u-turn has been confirmed weeks after it emerged that taxpayers were hit with an extra policing bill for last year’s Christmas and Hogmanay festivities in Edinburgh.

Senior officers hiked up the cost of policing in the city centre by 50 per cent after ordering a safety review of the city’s Christmas and Hogmanay events in the wake of the atrocities, which came just days before the first events were due to be held. The move left Edinburgh City Council with an unbudgeted £150,000 bill for hosting events which are worth around £240 million for the country’s economy.

Organisers last year faced claims that the ban had been influenced by the need to boost ticket sales for the £25-a-head party on Princes Street event.

However an internal council memo stated the authority could not afford the “significant financial resource” needed to make Calton Hill safe.

Unique Events had raised concerns about the volume of people who had been gathering on Calton Hill when it was outside the main arena it was responsible for.

A council spokeswoman said a decision to reopen Calton Hill had been taken following a review of “operational arrangements” and talks with the agencies involved in the event.

Richard Lewis, the city concil’s festivals and events champion, said: “The council will ensure Calton Hill remains open to the general public on Hogmanay night. A small area of the hill will be used as a fireworks site by the organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. This area will be stewarded.”

A spokeswoman for Unique Events said: “The midnight firework display lifting from Calton Hill will be a showpiece of the celebrations and will be to a similar scale as previous years.

“As always, they will steward he fireworks zone on Calton Hill, securing the perimeter to maintain public safety. We would ask that no members of the public approach the firing zone.

“The midnight moment fireworks, which are broadcast around the world, lift from Edinburgh Castle, Princes Street Gardens and Calton Hill, and are enjoyed from viewpoints across the city by an estimated 200,000 people.”