Councillors must carefully consider future of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party – Brian Ferguson
A lot has happened since Edinburgh ordered a review of its winter festivals nearly two-and-a-half years ago.
That pledge to fully consult the public about the future of the winter festivals was subsequently overtaken by events, as rows over the expansion of Christmas markets in Princes Street Gardens without proper planning permission, secrecy surrounding a decision to extend the contract of event producer Underbelly, and the handling of the Hogmanay festival ensured they were never out of the headlines – for all the wrong reasons.
Edinburgh was under lockdown for a second time when a poll was finally launched earlier this year and the findings have emerged days after this year’s winter festivals season got underway.
It worried me that when we were all living with severe restrictions, people were being asked for their views on events which bring tens of thousands of people into the city centre, many from all over the world.
It was perhaps not a surprise to discover in the poll results the thought of a “mass gathering” was bottom of the list of priorities for future Hogmanay celebrations.
But I was surprised to read the official council report in response, which strongly suggests the street party and other events like the torchlight parade will be consigned to the past, when event organisers are asked to submit proposals for a “pilot year” next winter.
The survey asked many questions, but not whether these events should be dropped, and it is almost impossible to see how the council could match the apparent demand for fireworks, live music and dancing on Hogmanay without staging a ticketed party or parties.
Crucial decisions will have to be made by councillors on these events over the next few weeks and months.
With the Hogmanay festival valued at £39 million – a return on a £1.1m public funding investment – the spin-offs from the celebrations should be at the forefront of their thoughts.
But they should also take time to carefully and responsibly consider the health, safety and security implications of not having a properly-run, policed and stewarded event when thousands will still want to celebrate on the streets.