Fringe chief 'torpedoed' lottery bid
THE most powerful promoter at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been accused of lobbying against multi-million-pound plans to refurbish his flagship venue.
Council leaders in the capital are furious at London-based impresario William Burdett-Coutts for opposing the planned overhaul of the Assembly Rooms, which was snubbed for National Lottery funding earlier this year.
Plans to close the building for 18 months to ensure that a 12 million revamp was completed in time for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad were thrown into chaos last month after the 2.7m Heritage Lottery Fund bid was rejected. The lottery body instead chose to award 2.6m towards a bid to restore run-down Lew Castle in Stornoway, on the isle of Lewis.
Mr Burdett-Coutts has admitted contacting the Heritage Lottery Fund to express concerns about the impact of the scheme on his venue, which marks 30 years at the Fringe this year.
He has previously warned that the future of his Fringe involvement would be put at risk by the council's plans for the A-listed venue, which dates back to 1787. He has been at loggerheads with the council for three years over plans to turn parts of the building that are turned into theatre spaces every August – but are little used at other times – into shops and a restaurant.
Mr Burdett-Coutts has complained of being "frozen out" of discussions over the venue, which the council wanted to refurbish to help attract lucrative conference business, concerts, awards ceremonies, fashion shows and gala dinners, as well as more arts shows.
The veteran impresario has won the backing of Fringe officials, celebrity performers and even rival promoters. However, the council insists the venue is in dire need of refurbishment and is a hugely under-used asset.
Senior councillors, who were only made aware of his intervention after the HLF bid was turned down in March, have hinted it may damage his future dealings with the council. Ironically, he has just struck a deal with the council to run a venue in West Princes Street Gardens for the first time.
Mr Burdett-Coutts told The Scotsman: "I did speak to the Heritage Lottery Board some time ago and raised a number of issues. I asked them to bear in mind the fact that this building is currently used as a major Fringe venue every year.
"We're not against the refurbishment of the Assembly Rooms – it is in desperate need of it – but we just want to be able to survive in future and the council's plans risked killing us off. "
Steve Cardownie, the city's festivals and events champion, said: "It seems perverse for William Burdett-Coutts to show his gratitude for the very good deal he's had with the council over the years by trying to torpedo our lottery bid.
"It's a completely unwarranted intervention."
A spokeswoman for the HLF said: "Mr Burdett-Coutts did contact HLF to make a number of points about the city council's proposals. We raised these with the council and received satisfactory answers to each point."
MAKING A STAND ON EARLY TICKETS
ANOTHER major Fringe promoter has started selling tickets for shows well ahead of the official programme launch next month.
The Stand Comedy Club unveiled its entire programme yesterday.
Bosses blamed rival venues Underbelly and the Assembly Rooms for forcing the move by releasing tickets for their shows in the last two months.
Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Phil Nicol and Sarah Millican are among the acts appearing at the Stand.
Venue director Tommy Sheppard said: "We would have much preferred to have waited until the overall Fringe programme is launched in June, but regrettably some of the mega-venues have already put shows on sale and we can't afford to wait."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West