Heritage body demands halt to gigs in Princes Street Gardens

Rag and Bone Man at Princes Street Gardens. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Rag and Bone Man at Princes Street Gardens. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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They have been staged for decades beneath Scotland’s most famous visitor attraction.

They have been staged for decades beneath Scotland’s most famous visitor attraction.

But now there are calls for pop and rock gigs to be ousted from Princes Street Gardens to protect the landmark below Edinburgh Castle from being turned into a “theme park”.

The Cockburn Association, the city’s long-running heritage body, has called for an end to large-scale concerts during the Fringe and at Hogmanay to protect public access to the historic park amid claims of a “creeping” increase in the number of events there.

Controversy erupted last week over blackboards that prevent the public seeing ticketed concerts in the gardens, which could host up to 200 events a year when a new £25 million arena is completed.

READ MORE: Princes Street barriers blocking views to be removed

The association has called for Leith Links to be considered as an alternative location and accused council chiefs of trying to commercialise ­“every square metre” of the city centre.

Only the festival fireworks finale would be allowed in the gardens under the Cockburn’s vision for the beauty spot. Despite its long track record of hosting outdoor gigs, it claims there are no “compelling” ­reasons to stage them there.

Chairman Cliff Hague said: “Like many others, my concerns have grown, as it seems like every square metre of the city centre is being viewed as a means of raising revenue. This also links disruption such events cause before, during and after the event itself.

“I’ve no problems with the fireworks at the end of the festival, which depend on the setting of the castle to add to the spectacle.

“But I’m less convinced by the necessity to stage major pop and rock concerts in the gardens, since they do not depend on the setting in the same way, are managed in a more exclusive way, as we’ve seen with the recent controversy about boarding off views into the gardens, and we have other venues, plus a new concert hall coming on stream.

“In these circumstances, the case for holding such events in the gardens is not compelling.

“I’m okay with the fireworks concert, less so with Hogmanay, where the concert adds to the sense that the whole city centre is a theme park.

The Cockburn is urging anyone concerned about the use of the gardens to respond to an ongoing consultation which could see up to 200 theatre, comedy, dance, visual art exhibitions, talks and children’s shows staged in the gardens.

Mr Hague said: “We believe the matter is one on which all citizens should have a chance to have a say. We seem to have been creeping towards a situation where the number of events has increased ­without proper public consultation, and despite mounting evidence of public concerns about how some of the negative impacts of tourism growth are being managed.

“There has been a growing feeling over the last couple of years, backed by evidence, that during ‘peak festival’ the city centre’s capacity to absorb tourists has been exceeded, and that part of the solution is to disperse some of the activity. Leith Links comes to mind.”

Mr Hague said the only events which should be ­considered for the gardens are those that add to rather than detract from its setting.

He added: “The prime purpose of the gardens is to provide a shared public space in the centre of the city with great views and high quality horticulture, a place to sit in and enjoy the garden as a place where there is tranquillity but also where part of the ­‘entertainment’ is watching others enjoying the place in their different ways.”