Fringe: High rental costs ‘are threat to festival’

FRINGE promoters have called for action to tackle “exorbitant” prices charged by property owners, amid claims that production companies are steering clear of the event because of the high costs.

The Fringe got underway this week. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Fringe got underway this week. Picture: Jane Barlow
The Fringe got underway this week. Picture: Jane Barlow

Leading figures warned the event faces being “diminished” in future years if larger productions are made less viable and potential visitors are put off from attending the festival.

Growing numbers of venues are said to be having to help performers meet the cost of staging productions because accommodation costs are so high, with the price of festival lets as much as four times the normal price outwith August.

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One promoter said he was having to pay £200,000 in accommodation costs alone for this year’s Fringe.

Now there are calls for the production of an official accommodation guide, with an agreed formula for festival rents as well as a code of conduct for property owners.

The Fringe does offer advice on what property owners should charge – with the most expensive properties costing just £150 per person per week – and also has a register of property owners who agree to peg their prices.

However, Scotland on Sunday has found huge variations in the prices owners are charging and now promoters are calling for a comprehensive guide by the Fringe for potential landlords and tenants.

Among the apartments still available via the LetInEdinburgh website are a six-bedroom property in Dick Place, in the Grange area, for £50,000 for the month. A one-bedroom flat overlooking Holyrood Park and the Scottish Parliament is available for £4,750 for the same period.

A two-bedroom apartment next to the Ocean Terminal shopping centre in Leith is being advertised at £5,000 for the festival period.

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Among the properties being advertised on Gumtree were a two-bedroom property on Drumsheugh Gardens, in the West End, which is up for grabs at £750 per week.

The owner of a two-bedroom flat on Duncan Street in Newington is looking for £700 a week, while a one-bedroom flat in the Old Town can still be secured for £600 a week and a one-bedroom flat in the Gorgie area is still being advertised at £450 per week – or £100 a night.

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Anthony Alderson, artistic director of the Pleasance, said there was a risk of “death by a thousand paper cuts” unless the issue was addressed by the Fringe as a whole.

He said: “The cost of accommodation certainly has the potential to erode the attractiveness of the Fringe over the next few years for a lot of 
performers. It is now about four times what it costs the rest of the year. We are having to find accommodation for people for five weeks, so the costs for us alone are huge.

“At the end of the day it is a saturated market and people can charge what they like, but there is a risk the Fringe will be diminished in four or five years’ time if costs continue to rise. It’s becoming more and more difficult to attract larger theatre companies and productions to the Fringe. You can only charge the same ticket price as you do for a show with one or two performers.”

William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of Assembly Theatre, called for an official guide to what property owners should charge.

He said: “We are now spending more than £200,000 on accommodation and although much of that is using university accommodation, it also includes a lot of private accommodation. We have to underwrite a lot of shows ourselves just so that people are able to come. It would be a very good idea if there was some kind of official guide that gives people an indication of what they should reasonably charge and we had broad agreement from people that they would use the guide when booking accommodation.”

Tommy Sheppard, director of The Stand Comedy Club, who also runs Assembly Rooms shows, said: “We booked a sound engineer into a flat on Grove Street, which we paid £60 a night for, and it turned out to be smaller than a prison cell. There wasn’t even room to swing a cat and he said he couldn’t possibly stay there.

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“Some of the prices being charged, particularly for student accommodation outwith the festival, are way beyond what is reasonable. There must be a way of coming up with clear parameters and being able to provide some kind of ratings system for people looking for accommodation.

“A lot of people simply want to let out their accommodation for the festival and make a few bob without ripping people off. But when someone tells them they can make a couple of grand from it, that’s what they end up charging.

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“Our most expensive show to put on is The Shawshank Redemption, which has a cast of ten. We’ve got to sell 10,000 of the 16,000 tickets for the show just to break even.”

A spokesman for the Fringe said: “Finding somewhere to stay in Edinburgh is one of the biggest considerations when taking part in the Fringe, as well as one of the largest costs. Our main aim is to promote properties being offered to rent at reasonable prices to help minimise the costs incurred by Fringe companies.”