Edinburgh council bosses admit mistake in Festival garden row

Promoters say they have never been given a proper explanation for the loss of the venue after it was used for the last three seasons. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Promoters say they have never been given a proper explanation for the loss of the venue after it was used for the last three seasons. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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City council chiefs have admitted it was a mistake for the Fringe to be ousted from a New Town square for the Edinburgh Festival’s 70th birthday celebrations.

Donald Wilson, the city’s new culture leader, has demanded a rethink for 2018 after a scathing attack from Fringe promoters who lost the right to stage shows in St Andrew Square Garden. He is to seek talks with the Fringe Society to help ensure shows are able to return there next year.

The city council leases the square, which had £2.6 million of public money spent on it before it opened to the public in 2008, from various owners.

Standard Life, one of the major sponsors of the Edinburgh International Festival, has been blamed for the ban on Fringe shows, which was confirmed while the EIF was in talks to stage its own opening event in the square.

Thousands of people flocked into the square and its garden at the weekend for the free sound and light show, which was sponsored by Standard Life.

Fringe promoters say they have never been given a proper explanation for the loss of the venue for shows after it was used for the last three seasons.

The clampdown on the use of the garden also affected the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, which was forced to relocate shows to West Princes Street Gardens last month.

Fringe chief executive Shona McCarthy has already pledged to argue the case for a rethink over the use of the square, which is expected to remain empty until the end of August.

The garden is managed by business group Essential Edinburgh on behalf of the owners.

Councillor Wilson, who was lord provost when the St Andrew Square decision was made, said: “I’m a great fan of The Stand, so I’m saddened at what has happened. It is important to use areas like Charlotte Square and St Andrew Square for the festivals. They are a fantastic resource for the city.

“It’s a shame an accommodation couldn’t be reached. It sounds like there has been a communication issue. If we think about these things in advance and ensure the right people get together surely we can avoid these things happening again.

“I want to speak to the Fringe about what has happened to try to make sure it does not happen again in future.”

A spokeswoman for Standard Life said: “Anyone wishing to plan an event can go to Essential Edinburgh, and it is assessed on a case by case basis.

“What the owners want to do is to have discussions with all the festival operators and see if we can put together a planned programme for the entire year which does not impact on the intended use of the gardens.”