Edinburgh city centre being ‘destroyed’ warns watchdog

Ice-skating in Edinburghs St Andrew Square over the festive period. Picture: Toby Williams
Ice-skating in Edinburghs St Andrew Square over the festive period. Picture: Toby Williams
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Edinburgh city centre is being “destroyed” by a growing trend for handing over public spaces for festivals and events, according to the city’s heritage watchdog.

The Cockburn Association, which has been monitoring the historic heart of the capital since 1875, has launched an outspoken attack against its “dumbing down” by the city council.

It has called for public funding to be cut for cultural events run by commercial operators, accusing them of damaging the landscape while “presumably making a healthy profit.”

It wants an end to “tacky installations” in public places like the Royal Mile and St Andrew Square, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in recent years during the summer and winter festivals, which are worth £261 million to the economy.

The Cockburn Association has spoken out after it emerged festival organisers were demanding a better clean-up of the city during events. They have asked for a series of “intensive care” measures to help ensure Edinburgh remains ahead of international rivals hosting major events.

However Cockburn director Marion Williams said the month of August, when the bulk of the city’s festivals are held, had become “a love it or hate time for residents” and said events staged over Christmas were “hardly culturally enhancing.”

She said: “Edinburgh is, like other capital cities, a great place to host festivals. We welcome high quality, culturally enhancing events that are accessible to residents, folk who work in the city and those who visit. We are sad to see a dumbing down in the quality that is currently offered.

“If the council wants to maintain Edinburgh’s position as a festival city it must up its game in terms of quality and inclusivity and not just head for the lowest denominator, where cheap accommodation, cheap booze and low-quality attractions are all they have to offer.

“This is a fantastically beautiful city that could sell itself if they concentrated on keeping it clean and applied the art of placemaking rather than place destroying.”

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “We would like to see greater engagement between the festivals and the city’s residential population. A lot of what has happened in the city centre recently has been fairly experimental, to understand what the limits are and test those limits. It’s important to understand what can and can’t be done, and learn from that.

“As soon as you start running events which are ticketed it makes public places less open to the rest of the world. There is a balance around that which is about recognising that the streets beyond to the people.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Edinburgh is a global destination for creativity, innovation and excellence in the arts and the council’s spend on the festivals in an investment in Edinburgh’s culture, economy and society.

“In a capital city it is important to balance the needs of festivals with the wants of residents and our new culture plan and annual health-check of the festivals will contribute to this.

“Last summer, additional council resources were put into the city to ensure that the streets were kept clean and tidy during peak festival season and we’ll do the same again this year. Once soil conditions are suitable, new turf is laid after heavy footfall events.

“We would be interested in gaining a better understanding of the Cockburn Association’s concerns as our last residents survey suggests the vast majority take great pride in the festivals and the value they provide to Edinburgh.

“In fact, our city-wide research tells us that 89 per cent of all local audiences agree that the festivals increase their pride in Edinburgh as a city while 94 per cent agree that the festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh special as a city.”