Summer Sessions gigs scrapped as clampdown on Princes Street Gardens events is ordered over rockfall fears

A clampdown on the staging of major events at Edinburgh’s historic outdoor arena has been ordered – over the risk of rockfalls from the castle.

West Princes Street Gardens has played host to the Summer Sessions concert series in recent years.
West Princes Street Gardens has played host to the Summer Sessions concert series in recent years.

Promoters have been forced to pull the plug on the annual Summer Sessions series of gigs after the city council reduced the number of large-scale events staged at the Ross Bandstand.

The move was ordered in response to health and safety concerns from the Scottish Government heritage body responsible for the castle.

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The move also casts doubt over the return of events like Edinburgh’s annual festival fireworks finale, which was absent this year, and the Fly Open Air electronica festival, which had to be called off in the wake of the Queen’s death.

Simple Minds performing their New Gold Dream show at Edinburgh Summer Sessions in Princes Street Gardens in August. Picture: Janet Christie

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    However the council has suggested more small-scale events could be held to recoup lost income as long as they can be contained within the 2700-capacity bandstand.

    Under a tightening of the guidelines for hiring the gardens, event organisers will be told: “It is primarily used as a park for the public to enjoy and this should be taken into consideration when preparing event proposals.

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    "Access to the park for the public should be maximised and the potential for damage to the gardens should be mitigated.”

    “One of the main gardens entrances, at King’s Stables Road, has been closed since 2019 amid fears from Historic Environment Scotland of people being injured by castle rockfalls.

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    The entrance has traditionally been used by event organisers to bring in infrastructure, including temporary staging for events at the bandstand.

    However there have been concerns about the environmental impact of an alternative route through through the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church and part of the west gardens.

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    In future, event organisers will be banned from parking any vehicles in the graveyard, while there will be a clampdown on any vehicles more than 7.5 tonnes using it to access the gardens. A detailed plan for the protection of tombs, gravestones and historic monuments will be needed.

    Just four major events are suggested each year in future, including a Hogmanay celebration, and an International Festival opening or closing event.

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    The gardens hosted six Summer Sessions shows this summer, when the series of pop and rock gigs returned for the first time in three years following the lifting of Covid restrictions, with Sir Tom Jones, Simple Minds, Travis and Simply Red all performing.

    Orbital, Nick Cave, BB King, Tony Bennett, Franz Ferdinand, Bryan Ferry, Steve Earle, Joan Baez, Belle & Sebastian, The Waterboys, James and The Flaming Lips are among the other acts to have played summer shows at the bandstand.

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    However an official report for the council’s culture commitee said the events sector was “constantly evolving in order to remain dynamic, economically viable, environmentally responsible, responsive and safe.”

    Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, organisers of the Summer Sessions shows and previous T on the Fringe shows in the gardens, said: “It’s a huge disappointment to hear news that Edinburgh Summer Sessions will not be able to take place for the foreseeable future and a huge blow to the live music scene in Edinburgh.

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    “We overcame the understandable access concerns this year and delivered a fantastic, safe event and a safe build and break with environmental concerns very much at the forefront of our planning as they are for all DF Concerts’ events.

    “All events of scale in the gardens – which were created for residents and visitors to enjoy entertainment - require pretty much the same set up and breakdown periods regardless of whether they are for one event day or several event days as in the case of ESS, therefore we struggle to understand why the new limit is for two event days only.

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    "We deliver a very tight, efficient yet thorough set up for ESS and pride ourselves on the first-class delivery of the event including excellent facilities for fans with accessible needs.

    “In the spectacular, unparalleled location of Princes Street Gardens, ESS has played host to a wide range of major artists from Tom Jones to Florence & The Machine including some wonderful Scottish performers from Simple Minds to Lewis Capaldi.

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    "Concerts at Princes Street Gardens will be sorely missed by tens of thousands of music fans every August.

    "In a time when reported audience numbers are down for many events, the robust attendances for ESS were a stand out of August 2022 in Edinburgh.

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    “We would like to place on record our thanks to the hundreds of thousands of music fans, many artists, partners, suppliers, staff and the multi-agency team responsible for the delivery of the festival.”

    Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place, said: “There have been additional pressures on access to West Princes Street Gardens for events.

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    “The King’s Stables Road entrance has been closed since 2019 due to the known risk of rockfall from the castle rockface.

    Discussions and correspondence have taken place with Historic Environment Scotland, the responsible body for the rockface, but remedial safety measures are not yet in place.

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    “Prior to 2019, the King’s Stables Road entrance provided an access and egress route for event organisers, as well as parks staff, that reached as far as the bridge at the back of the Ross Bandstand.

    "St Cuthbert’s churchyard is now the interim and sole access route for delivery of event infrastructure.”

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    Outdoor events have been held in West Princes Street Gardens was created in 1877, with replacement built in 1935. The city council began to explore plans for a new outdoor arena following the cancellation of two of the Hogmanay concerts.

    An international competition was held to choose designs for a new venue after a hotel, Norman Springford, offered to help pay for it. However The Quaich Project become embroiled in objections from heritage organisations over its potential impact on the rest of the gardens. Mr Springford blamed the level of opposition for a decision to stand down as chairman in February 2020.