Council chiefs in Edinburgh are set to spark further controversy over the use of Princes Street Gardens by ruling that an extended run of pop and rock gigs will count as just one major event in future.
A repeat of a series of Summer Sessions gigs which sparked anger over access restrictions and barriers blocking out views of Edinburgh Castle will not count as a major increase in the use of the gardens, even though they were staged across two weeks.
The council is consulting on plans to hand over the running of the gardens to an arms-length operator, which could stage up to 200 events of various sizes in a new £25 million arena.
Both the council and the Ross Development Trust, which was created to pursue the new arena scheme, insist there are no plans to relax a current limit which allows just four major events to be staged in the gardens each year.
But the council now admits that a series of concerts like the recent Summer Sessions “festival” – which saw five gigs staged across 13 days – will only be regarded as one event. The equivalent Summer Nights series at Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow expanded to 12 gigs this year.
It is thought up to eight gigs could have been staged at the bandstand this year under the terms of an agreement between the council and Summer Sessions promoters DF Concerts. One show featuring Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson was moved to the Playhouse after reported poor ticket sales.
A council spokeswoman said the Summer Sessions were regarded as “one event”, along with the annual festival fireworks finale, the Hogmanay concert and Social Bite’s Sleep in the Park fundraiser.
She added: “This has been the first year of the Summer Sessions concerts and they appear to have been a great addition to the Fringe. That said, it’s important we review and fully understand the operational arrangements, public feedback and impact on the gardens to inform any future plans.”
David Ellis, managing director of the trust, said: “We’ll honour whatever the council policy is on how many large events are allowed to be staged. We’ll work within what it says is acceptable. But the newly-designed building will mean there will be less infrastructure needed for large events and disruption will be reduced.”
Donald Wilson, the council’s culture convener, said: “This council is not proposing to and never would consider ‘selling off’ any part of the gardens. They are an important public asset and always should be.”
However, Cliff Hague, chair of the Cockburn Association heritage watchdog, said: “I don’t think it is unfair to join the dots and say it is going to be very important to maximise income from the main arena because a high-cost scheme is being proposed. There will have to be a substantial revenue flow coming through to sustain it.
“We just don’t know how many days there will not be full public access to the gardens in future, including the set-up, the event, the take-down and the recovery period, as well as during the construction phase.”