Call for re-think on Edinburgh’s festive skating ban in St Andrew Square

Families enjoys the ice rink in St Andrew Square. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Families enjoys the ice rink in St Andrew Square. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Organisers of Edinburgh’s winter festivals have pleaded for a rethink over a controversial ice rink ban from one of its most historic squares - warning the city’s retailers will lose business over the festive season without it.

Promoters Underbelly have published an open letter calling on the owners of St Andrew Square to lift a ban on the attraction, claiming there is no suitable alternative city centre location. They have called for a summit of city stakeholders to resolve a dispute over the scale and impact of the ice rink in time for the winter amid warnings that the loss of an attraction visited by 80,000 revellers last year may deter people from visiting the city.

Essential Edinburgh, which manages the square on behalf of owners like Standard Life, Gleneagles, RBS and Harvey Nichols, admitted the loss of the ice rink may hit “footfall.” It emerged last month that property owners in the square have decided to oust the ice rink due to concerns over its scale and impact.

The garden underwent a £2.6 million makeover funded by Edinburgh City Council and Scottish Enterprise before opening to the public in 2008. However Fringe promoters were turfed out in 2017 and the ice rink has been banished over claims it has been “wrecking” the garden for years.

The open letter states: “We’ve seen the number for people enjoying skating in the city centre grow by over 150 per cent since we took over Edinburgh’s Christmas – more than 80,000 last year. It is our hope everyone can take time to consider the issues more fully and reflect on what can be achieved in Edinburgh for this Christmas and for the future.

“In an age where shops face greater pressures than ever because of the growth of online retail, it surely cannot be in anyone’s interest to reduce footfall and activity in the city centre.

“Given the possible impact on the city centre, we hope we can get stakeholders around the table to consider the issues and see if solutions can be found.”

Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “You’ve only got to ask yourself why someone comes into the city centre at Christmas. It’s not just about retail any more.

“Cities have to provide amenities and attractions to bring people in. That’s why this festival has an economic impact of £113m and every town and city now has Christmas events.

“If the events in Edinburgh get smaller there will be fewer reasons to come here and a reduction of the benefits that the city gets.”

Essential Edinburgh chief executive Roddy Smith said: “People do not come into the city centre just to go ice skating. There could be another attraction in the square thatcould draw in footfall. The most important thing for the owners is the upkeep of the square.”

Let’s Work Together to Tackle Ice Rink Blow

It is a matter of deep regret to us that the issues regarding the use of St Andrew Square for the ice rink at Edinburgh’s Christmas have to be carried out in the public domain. However, since the matter has been given to the press, we feel we have no choice but to seek to make our position clear and address what we believe is a huge blow to the city’s Christmas celebrations. Edinburgh led the way with its ice rink which has become a modern Edinburgh tradition since it first appeared in 1998 and has since been enjoyed by generations of Edinburgh residents and visitors.

The loss of St Andrew Square for the ice rink has already attracted significant public regret. In the past week, over 16,000 people have actively engaged with our Edinburgh’s Christmas Facebook page on the issue, engaging, commenting on and sharing the news. We firmly believe we all have a responsibility to those disappointed residents and visitors to try and resolve the issues if we can. There is no alternative location for the ice rink, which was custom made for St Andrew Square.

We have seen the number for people enjoying skating in the city centre grow by over 150% since we took over Edinburgh’s Christmas - more than 80,000 last year. More than that, it is obvious that the ice rink has enabled hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors to create memories that they will enjoy for their lifetimes.

St Andrew Square is an important and treasured private space. Treasured by the proprietors who generously opened it up to public use and treasured by the Edinburgh public. It needs to be cared for and we have spent huge amounts of time and effort making sure that the gardens are fully restored after being used for Christmas activities. We have also been considering and planning how to make the restoration better and quicker in the coming years.

However, the sad fact that the issue was thrust into the public domain – not by us, may have given the proprietors and others, the impression that we have ‘gone on the offensive’ to retain the ice rink. That is simply not true. The proprietors of St Andrew Square have done an amazing job in opening up and looking after this world class garden. All we have ever sought to do is to help people enjoy it.

It is our hope that everyone can take some time to consider the issues more fully and reflect on what can be achieved in Edinburgh for this year’s Christmas and for the future. In an age where shops face greater pressures than ever before because of the growth of online retail (90% of us now use Amazon), it surely cannot be in anyone’s interest to reduce footfall and activity in the city centre.

Given the possible impact on the city centre, we hope we can get stakeholders around the table to consider the issues and see if solutions can be found. Meantime, everyone should be clear that we have not sought to take this issue into the public domain, and we regret that we have had to go public to make that clear.

Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood

Underbelly