Heritage watchdog says festival crowds ‘choking’ Edinburgh

Cliff Hague pictured among the crowds and street performers on the High Street during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Neil Hanna
Cliff Hague pictured among the crowds and street performers on the High Street during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Edinburgh is becoming “dysfunctional” in August due to the vast number of people flooding into the city centre for its festivals, the city’s long-running heritage watchdog has warned.

The Cockburn Association, which was formed in 1875, is warning that the capital is now dogged by streets “clogged” with festival-goers and “stalled” traffic.

Cliff Hague, who was appointed chair of the Cockburn Association last year, has called for the major festivals to be spread out during the year to allow the city to better “manage” major events. He has also urged a wider geographical spread of events to ease pressure on the historic heart of the city.

The Cockburn Association has spoken out days after the body responsible for protecting Edinburgh’s world heritage site called for the city experiment in “spreading” the city’s major events out.

Edinburgh World Heritage believes the city’s main tourism season could be lengthened as part of a plan to protect its historic heart.

Edinburgh World Heritage sparked controversy last month by saying the city needed to take action to avoid it “suffering the same fate” as Venice, which it described as a “hollow museum shell”. It said work was needed “to better understand the capacity limits of our fragile, historic city”.

Hague said: “There are now so many people visiting the city in August that the peak is becoming dysfunctional. Rentals escalate, streets are clogged, traffic stalls, as the city has to carry crowds that exceed its capacity. The worst pinchpoint is the intersection of the Bridges with the Royal Mile. The pavements on South Bridge in particular are narrow, and there are many buses along that route, so many people are queueing. Add in the A-boards that shops and cafes put out, plus litter bins, and pavement space is at a premium.

“There is also a problem on Market Street, where the north side in particular is heavily congested as people exit Waverley Station and queue for taxis, while on the south side there usually seems to be construction work blocking off pedestrians’ routes. At this time of year these and other parts of the city centre become very difficult to move around for parents with buggies, wheelchair users or those using two walking sticks. If Edinburgh aspires to be an inclusive city it needs to take this seriously.

“I like the idea of trying to structure things so more local children can experience the thrill of live shows. Any rethinking should include a serious look at how to spread events more widely across Edinburgh, so that pressure on the city centre is relieved and, just as important, more events are held close to citizens who may not have the time to travel into town.”

The Edinburgh Tourism Action Group’s new 2020 strategy warns that a “failure” to address the large variation of visitor numbers between the peak season and the surrounding months in Edinburgh was one of the biggest barriers to further growth and increasing the sustainability of the sector.

The blueprint says: “The popularity of Edinburgh’s core Old and New Town area is creating increasing challenges as visitor numbers grow, resulting in a high density of visitors during peak periods. There is a danger this will start to impact on the quality of the visitor experience and create friction between residents and the tourism sector, as well as limiting growth due to capacity issues.”