Brian Ferguson: Little goodwill in spats over Edinburgh developments

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The season of goodwill is supposed to be almost upon us. But the dazzling displays of lights and attractions in Edinburgh city centre are masking growing rumblings of discontent.

In fact, it is getting difficult keeping track of the various spats, feuds and PR debacles over the city’s culture, tourism and events landscape, and the growing calls for clampdowns.

CGI artist impressions of proposed Edinburgh IMPACT concert hall

CGI artist impressions of proposed Edinburgh IMPACT concert hall

Princes Street Gardens have been the main battleground in recent weeks as anger mounted over the chopping of dozens of trees shortly before work began to erect Christmas markets on the same location. The staging of the Summer Sessions concerts in the west side of the park has been put on hold while the city council draws up new plans to “manage” the August festivals. Some politicians have suggested staging these shows at a different time of year, although the prospect of the Winter Sessions being staged beneath Edinburgh Castle instead has substantially less appeal.

The ongoing review of how the city handles its major cultural events may involve the banning of traffic from some of the busiest streets in the city summer amid growing concerns of the risk of a serious accident due to crowd congestion on traffic-thronged thoroughfares. Some councillors are calling for a reduction in the number of festival events in public parks, which could have major implications for promoters who currently used sites like the Meadows. This week has seen calls for a clampdown on silent discos, amid claims they are driving residents to distraction and creating an extra hazard for motorists and pedestrians. Police asked to deal with complaints over pipers and buskers are probably entitled to wonder where it will all end. Caught up in the cauldron of complaints were projects earmarked at either end of the city centre, with Edinburgh Gin and Johnnie Walker accused of encouraging the city’s “Disneyfication” with plans for visitor centres on Market Street and Princes Street respectively.

All of the above should be more than enough to concern those charged with maintaining and developing the tourism industry and the city’s world-leading reputation for arts and culture.

Yet efforts to create the city’s first new concert hall for more than a century are facing opposition from developers behind a neighbouring five-star hotel complex which has yet to be built. The simmering bad blood between the charitable trust behind the new Impact Centre, which has secured £45 million of backing from the Scottish Government, and the real estate firm behind the replacement for the largely-reviled St James shopping centre seems unlikely to be resolved any time soon after lawyers were called in amid claim and counter-claim about whether the proposed concert hall has gone up or size or been scaled back since plans first emerged. The city council can expect to be lobbied extensively from either side of the New Town divide before it decides its fate.

Plans to replace the Ross Bandstand with a new outdoor concert amphitheatre have already set alarm bells ringing in certain sections of the heritage lobby, particularly after it emerged that up to 200 events a year could be held in the new-look arena. With detailed designs yet to be lodged with the city council, it looks set to have an equally bumpy journey to the finish line, with the project already two years late and facing a major funding shortfall.

I would suggest the council convene a summit to try to sort out some of these messes. But that is unlikely while it as at loggerheads with large sections of the industry over its bed tax plans.