Edinburgh councillors kept in dark over Princes St Gardens 'debenture scheme'

Financial backers have been promised invitations to VIP performances by high-profile celebrities, among other things

Council leaders have admitted they were kept in the dark over plans for a controversial “debenture scheme” to help pay for a new-look Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh.

City council chief Adam McVey and his deputy Cammy Day have revealed they did not sign off a secret fundraising drive for the Quaich Project, which will see a new amphitheatre for events to replace the existing Ross Bandstand.

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It has also emerged that the proposals, which suggest corporate backers will be able to link their brands to everything from new pathways and seating in the gardens to a 5000-capacity arena, did not go to any council committee or a senior officer.

Edinburgh councillors kept in dark over Princes St Gardens 'debenture scheme'

Instead, they were handled and agreed internally by the team working on the Quaich Project, “a public-private partnership” created by the city council and the Ross Development Trust, which was set up by the former owner of the Edinburgh Playhouse, Norman Springford, to pursue a redevelopment of the gardens.

Financial backers have been promised invitations to VIP performances by high-profile celebrities, tickets for major concerts in the gardens, and exclusive drinks parties and dinners in a converted cottage.

The fundraising plans were kept secret despite growing concern from heritage groups, community organisers and campaigners about growing “commercialisation” of public space in the city. The brochures were only made public after being leaked to this newspaper.

A spokeswoman for the council said: “Sponsorship and donation materials were prepared for, and approved by, the joint project team and were reviewed by key council departments, including procurement, legal, culture and communications before they were published.”

Edinburgh councillors kept in dark over Princes St Gardens 'debenture scheme'

Cllr Mcvey said: “Any proposed sponsorship or large donation would have to come to councillors for approval. Some of the offers in the fundraising brochures are not really relevant to the council as they’re not about the gardens or any other council asset. The project is not in a position to guarantee anything special, unique or private in relation to the gardens.”

Jules Haston, director of development at the Quaich Project, said the marketing materials were “developed in partnership” with the council.

She added: “We’ve always understood that approval of any major sponsorship or other agreements would need approval by councillors.”

Amy McNeese-Mechan, vice-convener of the culture committee, said: “The Quaich Project is providing us with an opportunity to invest in and enhance one of the most stunning settings in Scotland. We look forward to continuing to support this and the huge benefits it could bring to the people of Edinburgh and beyond.”