Hogmanay fireworks and street party may be dropped under Edinburgh’s winter festivals rethink
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Christmas and new year events are set to be expanded across the city under an overhaul aimed at reducing their impact on the environment, clamping down on drinking and overcrowding at pop-up markets, and doing more to support local businesses, producers and performers.
The city council has suggested drone displays and light shows could be staged instead of fireworks under a drive to cut the carbon footprint of the long-running winter festivals.
Signature events like the torchlight procession and street party could be ditched after nearly 30 years if organisers come up with “world-class” alternative ideas which maintain the global profile of the city's new year celebrations, which are still planned to have a “significant midnight moment”.
However, the city council insists it wants Edinburgh to remain “the home of Hogmanay” by staging live music, street theatre and light shows as far from the city centre as Leith and Granton.
It has also suggested the three-day new year festival, which up to £810,000 will be available for, could run for much longer, with indoor events staged in theatres and concert venues.
The events industry is being challenged to rethink both events to ensure they are “unique to Edinburgh” and the whole city benefits from them.
The city wants to overhaul its Christmas festival by reducing its impact on Princes Street Gardens.
Although the use of the historic park has not been ruled out, potential applicants to run the event are being warned their plans must make “minimal” use of green space and that proposals to make more use of “hard-standing” areas will be favoured.
The city council has suggested the main Christmas events and attractions could be extended to Festival Square, St Andrew Square, the Grassmarket, East Market Street, the High Street and Parliament Square to cut their environmental impact, avoid overcrowding problems, and spread the economic benefits of the festival, which is expected to run for up to six weeks.
However, applicants are also being urged to focus on making the celebrations “family friendly”, introduce alcohol-free times or areas at the main festival sites, give priority to existing and new local businesses and creative workers, and extend the Christmas festival out of the city centre, including to local town centres.
The city council has begun a search for new organisers for the two events, estimated to have been worth £158 million for the economy in recent years, who are expected to be appointed by June.
Detailed briefs for the Christmas and Hogmanay festivals, for contracts to run them for at least the next three years, have been published months after an opinion poll found backing for the events to continue, but raised concerns about their environmental impact, the number of stalls selling alcohol, the cost of tickets for events and attractions, and overcrowding in the city centre at peak periods.
The council has insisted the new-look winter festivals do not need to "follow any precedents” set by previous events. The only key demand for Christmas is the programme incorporates a lights switch-on event and the traditional Norwegian tree on The Mound.
Future organisers of the city’s new year celebrations will “above all” have to provide a high-quality offering and maintain the city’s Hogmanay festival status as a world-class event that promotes the city internationally.
The council has suggested the Hogmanay festival could still encompass “parades” in future and involve the temporary closure of Princes Street to traffic, but has not published maximum capacities for the kind of big-scale events the city has become famous for.
City council leader Adam McVey said: “Through our city-wide conversation with residents, businesses and stakeholders last year, it was clear that there was overwhelming support for the continuation of Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations, but with a revised format.
“More than 8,600 people and 35 organisations responded to the survey, with 87 per cent expressing support for a Christmas celebration and 86 per cent for Hogmanay.
“I’m confident that by acting on residents’ feedback, we can remain the home of Hogmanay and ensure our Christmas events, enjoyed by so many across the city, continue in a way that balances residents’ needs and aspirations for how they should look and feel in future.”
Depute council leader Cammy Day added: “Our winter festivals are internationally renowned and, from our conversation with the city, we were pleased that the majority wanted Edinburgh to keep its place on the world map for Christmas celebrations and as home of Hogmanay.
“As well as contributing to the wellbeing of our residents, our winter festivals deliver real economic impact, benefiting tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors in particular.
“With these new contracts, we want to continue to provide inclusive high-quality festive celebrations, further enhance the city’s reputation and allow the benefits to be shared across our town centres and communities.”
Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “The Christmas and Hogmanay festivals are key drivers for the city centre and are core to the year round sustainability of it.
"Whilst it is acknowledged there is some benefit from moving events around the city, the public, event producers and business benefits from a central location where you can combine the festival activities with shopping and hospitality.
“Last year saw a significant reduction in the green space used for events and this worked extremely well.
“We must be more sustainable and respectful of our environment, but equally must deliver events that the public and business needs. The ice rink on George Street was a great example of what could be achieved without the need to use greenspace.
“We look forward to working with producers to continue to deliver world-class events that support our residents and businesses whilst also attracting visitors and tourists to our wonderful city.”