THOUSANDS of Hogmanay revellers are to be banned from gathering on one of Edinburgh’s main vantage points for the first time, organisers have announced.
Safety concerns have been blamed for a surprise decision to block off access to Calton Hill for six hours over the New Year festivities – 22 years after official celebrations were first staged.
The city council, which is sealing off the site from 7pm on Hogmanay, said it was concerned about growing numbers of revellers on the hill, which overlooks the main event on Princes Street.
Organisers said it was proving increasingly difficult to guarantee the safety of the crowds on Calton Hill, one of the two main firing points for the midnight fireworks, which are said to have lured in growing numbers of revellers. However, it is understood there have been no serious injuries there in recent years.
The move – announced just over a week before the festival, a major money-spinner, gets under way – is likely to dismay revellers who have traditionally gathered on the hill.
Thousands of tickets are still available for the official celebrations, with prices starting at £25 for the main arena on Princes Street and a new open-air ceilidh on the Royal Mile costing £45.
Calton Hill plays host to the climax of the festival’s opening night event, a torchlight procession from the Old Town, which has attracted more than 70,000 people to the city centre in recent years, almost as many as the street party. It also hosts the annual Beltane Fire Festival in April.
A statement from the council said: “The hill is unlit and uneven underfoot and the closure will ensure the public are kept safe on the night. In addition, Calton Hill is used as a firing site for the midnight fireworks. They are best seen from a distance and organisers recommend people select a suitable vantage point.”
Richard Lewis, the council’s festivals and events champion, said: “Edinburgh is famed for its midnight fireworks and we’re lucky to have so many fantastic vantage points from which to enjoy them.
“The draw of spectators to Calton Hill is understandable and the view undeniable – which is why the torchlight procession entices 10,000 torch bearers and 20,000 visitors on 30 December. Hogmanay is the busiest night of the year in our city centre. Public safety is our key priority.”
Pete Irvine, managing director of Unique Events, the producers of the Hogmanay festival, said: “This is something we’ve talked about for quite a few years. It’s been an incremental thing. More and more people have been going up Calton Hill, on to the Bridges, and to places like Arthur’s Seat and Inverleith Park. There’s probably another 100,000 people who participate. Calton Hill is an obvious place for people to go but we can’t police it or secure it. We’re responsible for what happens inside the event perimeter and immediately outwith it.
“We used to have fireworks above the seven hills of Edinburgh but we stopped that because people were climbing up all of them.”