Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations are to be expanded onto the Royal Mile over the bells for the first time in 16 years in the wake of crowd congestion problems at last year’s event.
Two new stages are to be set up around St Giles’ Cathedral and part of the historic High Street will be made ticket only under a radical overhaul of the centrepiece of the capital’s three-day festival.
The midnight fireworks above Edinburgh Castle will be resigned to allow up to 4000 revellers at an open-air ceilidh in the heart of the Royal Mile to see the display under a host of changes unveiled by organisers.
Last year’s street party, which has had an overall capacity of 75,000 in recent years, was marred by prolonged crowd congestion at the top of The Mound.
Huge crowds had gathered well before midnight to see Australian DJ Tom Loud’s hit Edinburgh Festival Fringe show Hot Dub Time Machine. He had to regularly appeal for calm during his set as increasingly chaotic scenes unfolded, where police officers had to remove safety barriers to allow some of the crowds into the area in front of the New College building around 11.30pm to ease the problems.
The Royal Mile will now be part of the street party arena for the first time since the capital’s Millennium celebrations, which also included George Street and had an overall capacity of 180,000. The 2015-16 celebrations will have a capacity of 75,000, the same as in recent years.
To help spread out the crowds an extra stage has been added on Castle Street, while a funfair has been removed from Market Street, where a new entrance to the street party is being created, at its junction with Cockburn Street. Seven giant TV screens, two more than last year, will be erected throughout the street party arena.
Organisers believe the changes will ease the numbers of people trying to get to the street party down The Mound, where hundreds of revellers last year scale a spiked fence to get into the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery to escape the crush.
Medical crews dealt with a third more revellers at last year’s street party, the highest tally since the capacity of the event was cut back from 100,000 in 2009-10.
Producers Unique Events, who have staged the festivities since they were first officially organised in 1993, have relocated the hugely-popular ceilidh, staged on The Mound precinct in recent years, to a bigger arena on Parliament Square. The event will boast two stages for the first time and an attempt will be made to break the Hogmanay festival’s own world record for the biggest “Strip The Willow.”
Ticket-holders for the regular street party will be allowed into The Mound and East Princes Street Gardens, which will host one of several new food and drink villages. Some of the German Christmas market traders will be staying on the Mound for the first time over Hogmanay.
Organisers say the move to bring the Royal Mile back into the street party will take the event back to its historic roots. Huge crowds traditionally gathered on the High Street to celebrate the bells, although the Tron Kirk, where thousands of revellers still converge, is not party of the “Old Town Ceilidh” arena.
Business and residents on the Royal Mile have been promised proper access will be maintained, although a ticket for the ceilidh will be needed to access the section between the City Chambers and George IV Bridge from early evening on Hogmanay.
London club night Guilty Pleasures will be taking over The Mound stage this year, although it will be located in a slightly different position, while new crowd safety lanes are being created to ease potential problems.
Pete Irvine, director of the Hogmanay festival, said: “I’d like to emphasise that we change the street party every single year, it’s never been the same twice.
“The last time it changed significantly was when the tramworks were introduced, when we had to take away stages and screens from Princes Street.
“We had a stage at the top of The Mound for years and years. We never had any big problems before. There was a juxtaposition last year between one of our main gates and a very busy stage.
“We have addressed the congestion issue by putting on something that is less well-known. We’re not putting anything as high-energy as Hot Dub Time Machine on The Mound.
“We’ve addressed the whole street party with new crowd-control systems that will make moving around easier, particularly in The Mound area.
“We’re going to using the two squares around the cathedral and the Royal Mile. We will also be amending the fireworks firing sites a little so that people will be able to see a lot more of them. It’s one of the biggest changes we’ve made in years.”
Meanwhile it was confirmed today that former Red Dwarf and Coronation Street star Craig Charles will be one of the star attractions at the four-hour street party.
The main DJ stage is being relocated from The Mound to Frederick Stage, where he will be staging a live version of his BBC 6 Music “Funk and Soul Show”, which will be broadcast to the whole street party.
Other acts in the line-up include Mercury Prize nominees Maximo Park, garage-punk duo Slaves, one of the BBC’s Sound of 2015 nominees this year, and rising Glasgow electropop band White.
The Peatbog Faeries, Shooglenifty and Rura, three of the biggest acts on the Celtic music scenes in Scotland, will be playing at the new Castle Street stage.
Mr Irvine said he expected much greater demand for the street party as the flagship “Concert in the Gardens”, headlined by Biffy Clyro and Idlewild, has already sold out, less than a fortnight after tickets went on sale.
Mr Irvine said around 150,000 people were expected to attend the three-day festival, which will be expanded its torchlight procession fundraiser to a record 10,000 participants due to public demand. Some 50,000 spectators have taken to the streets to watch the “river of fire” parade from the Old Town to Calton Hill.
The New Year’s Day “Scot:Lands” event, which sees one-off performances staged in secret venues across the Old Town, will be returning, although the full line-up is being kept under wraps until next month.