Fringe and book festival to team up to run new outdoor arena

The Book Festival has been staged in Charlotte Square since 1983 but this year it will expand, taking over the west end of George Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The Book Festival has been staged in Charlotte Square since 1983 but this year it will expand, taking over the west end of George Street. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Fringe promoters are set to join forces with organisers of Edinburgh’s long-running book festival to run venues due to take over part of one of the capital’s main thoroughfares.

The whole west end of George Street will be closed to traffic for a major expansion of the book festival and a new arena for The Stand Comedy Club’s operators.

Up to four new venues and an outdoor cafe are expected to be installed to accommodate hundreds of shows during August as part of a major overhaul of how the festivals are accommodated.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival, which has been staged in Charlotte Square since 1983, is spilling out of its garden for the first time this year after being given permission to use part of George Street by the city council.

The move coincides with the takeover of the Freemasons’ Hall at the west end of George Street by Salt ’n’ Sauce, programmers of shows at The Stand on York Place, after they lost the right to use St Andrew Square Garden.

Fringe shows will be staged in the new outdoor arena before the book festival gets under way over the second weekend in August. Cafes, bars and restaurants will also be allowed to spill out on to the street at the west end of George Street on condition they limit disruption of book festival talks.

Other changes planned for George Street include a new pop-up theatre and several futuristic “domes” which will be run by the operators of the Assembly Rooms, where Irvine Welsh will be unveiling a brand new play in August, which is inspired by cult Mick Jagger film Performance.

However, it has been confirmed that no Fringe shows will be going ahead in St Andrew Square this summer following protests from property owners about the impact on its historic garden, which was opened to the public in 2008. A row over its use led to the withdrawal from the Fringe of Australian promoter David Bates and his Famous Spiegeltent venue.

Roddy Smith, chief executive of city centre business group Essential Edinburgh, said: “We’re shutting a whole block of George Street at its west end. The council has made it clear that it doesn’t just want to do that during the festival for the bars and restaurants on the street, but it will allow them to come right on to the street.

“This block is the quietest for traffic, and there are very few retailers or residents. It is by far the easiest for the council to close.

“The book festival needs to expand and has been looking for more space. This is the logical place to use as so don’t have to have twin sites. They start a week later than the Fringe but the block will be up and ready from the start of August.”

Kenny O’Brien, director of Salt ’n’ Sauce, said: “The new outdoor area is going to be almost diagonally opposite the Freemasons’ Hall. It’s going to be the book festival site, first and foremost, but we’re keen to put things together that will make everyone happy.”

The book festival said its plans for the new arena would be revealed at its programme launch in June.