A powerful new alliance has been formed to drive forward an overhaul of Edinburgh’s ageing venues and fill gaps in its cultural infrastructure to ensure it retains its world-leading status.
New facilities would be created under a 20-year plan aimed at dramatically boosting the capital’s year-round cultural scene and the reach of the arts in the city.
More than 20 experts drawn from the cultural sector, the business world, academia and even the health service have been brought together on the taskforce.
New venues for Edinburgh International Festival productions, Fringe shows, art exhibitions and film festival screenings would be created. Historic venues would either be replaced or upgraded.
Key priorities are expected to include finding a fitting home for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, getting a new medium-sized concert hall off the ground in the city centre and developing an indoor arena suitable for theatre and live music productions.
Overhauls for the King’s Theatre, a rebirth of Leith Theatre, a new home for the Traverse Theatre, and a replacement for the Queen’s Hall are all believed to be on the agenda of the group, which will be exploring options for funding such projects in the face of public spending cutbacks.
Lady Susan Rice, former managing director of the Lloyds Banking Group, has agreed to chair the new Edinburgh Culture Task Group, which has been instigated by the city council.
Among the senior figures from the cultural world involved are Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer, Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Sir John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland and Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland.
Other figures on the group include playwright David Greig, architect Malcolm Fraser, technology entrepreneur Doug Hare, property developer Chris Stewart and investment fund manager James Anderson.
Richard Lewis, culture leader at the city council, said: “I’m acutely aware that we’ve been unable to spend anything on capital infrastructure for the last five years. We’re just so squeezed and we’re having to save a huge amount of money. But what we can’t do is expect old buildings to wait for us.
“There are huge pluses that come with being a Unesco world heritage city. But being one of the most beautiful cities in the world also comes with a number of negatives. Our cultural infrastructure is old and needing a huge amount of investment. We trumpet the success of the Edinburgh festivals every year. But that’s only because we have got venues that are open. Imagine the economic impact of having to close down a major venue.
“There are a lot of productions that we just can’t accommodate in Edinburgh at the moment. It would be great to have a flexible new venue out at Ingliston, right next door to the fastest-growing airport in Scotland and right on the tram line.
“You would be able to drive a truck right up to it and unload a set for the kind of spectacles you see in other countries. You could accommodate Festival events in August and medium-sized pop and rock events the rest of the year.
“It is extraordinary that a city of Edinburgh’s size doesn’t have a venue like this. We just don’t have the modern infrastructure that is needed. We cannot stand still.”