Roddy Smith: There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make Edinburgh festival city of the world

George Street during the International Festival
George Street during the International Festival
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The dust has now settled on another summer ­festival season, with this year being especially important as it was the 70th anniversary edition. ­Early ­indications from the many ­promoters, venues and organisers are that ticket sales this year are up on ­previous years with thousands of visitors and residents enjoying the city’s cultural, retail and leisure ­offerings.

Thousands of performers, millions of ticket sales, tens of thousands of hotel nights, restaurant bookings, huge footfall for our shops, pubs and myriad other businesses, as well as an enormous and positive profile for the city around the globe – all testify to the vital nature of Edinburgh maintaining its crown as festival city

This year we have been delighted to have partnered with many festival operators to support activity within our area. On the opening weekend, we were pleased to work in partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival to host the superb free Bloom event in St Andrew Square. It was great to see the square full of people enjoying a quite simply ­amazing lighting projection. The east end was alive with ­residents and visitors enjoying our beautiful city.

Essential Edinburgh has worked in partnership with the Book Festival, Assembly and Salt ‘n Sauce to bring George Street to life, with the very welcome addition of the Rose Theatre making sure the New Town ­complements the festival offering in the Old Town. Our city is exceptionally busy during August and it’s vital that the Festival’s venues are city-wide.

We should also never lose track of the fact that the city is itself a vital part of the ­festivals. The city would be poorer in every way without its wonderful, year-round programme – but it is also hard to imagine these festivals taking place in any other city!

It’s the vibrancy and beauty of ­Edinburgh and, in particular, the city centre, that lends so much to our wonderful and unique ambience, attracting visitors in their droves.

Heritage and history is fundamentally key to our ability to attract visitors and offer them a world class experience to complement the world class environment and the quality of our retail and leisure provision. This is a superb mix and should be celebrated and enhanced year on year.

Using space in the city centre is not always easy. We need to be free to maximise the benefits for visitors and residents – but we also need to be able to use the spaces in an imaginative way that helps us ensure that our wonderful city’s beating heart stays as healthy as it can whilst minimising ­disruption to residents.

This, as we know, is often a delicate balancing act. Pop-up venues, road closures and logistical changes are needed during August and these must be delivered in a way that causes the least friction to our residents whilst accepting that August is fundamentally different to every other month. In other words, balancing the desire to constantly enhance with the need to ensure we are sustainable.

All this reminds us that our city centre is, literally, at the heart of our city’s success and ­economic health and Essential Edinburgh will do all that it can to enable it to prosper.

We continue to work proactively to support new public realm on Rose Street and George Street as well as add support to the exciting developments at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens.

We are also keen to explore with our partners at City of Edinburgh Council a much more structured and strategic approach to how to get the best from Castle Street, where significant investment created a space with an amazing location which could, and should, be key to future city centre animation.

We are also keenly involved in making our city centre as attractive as possible – our clean team works hard to augment the services provided by City of Edinburgh Council and we have invested in increased planting and landscaping, as well as significantly in lights to ensure the city centre has an appropriate festive feel at Christmas.

With the well-documented financial challenges faced by our local authority, Essential Edinburgh is seeking to attract new investment and deliver more services – our levy payers invest £1 million of their own money in enhancing the city centre every year, and Essential Edinburgh has a proven track record in attracting additional money to support activity.

The success of The Street of Light, Red Red Rose Street, Edinburgh’s Georgian Shadows, Film Fest in the City, Bloom and the Book ­Festival amongst others show the benefits of agencies working in partnership to deliver innovative projects.

Roddy Smith is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh.