Famous Spiegeltent could quit Fringe after St Andrew Square ban

The impresario behind one of the most celebrated venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe says it may have to quit the city after being forced out of its home in a historic New Town square.
Fringe shows have been staged in St Andrew Square Garden for the last three years.Fringe shows have been staged in St Andrew Square Garden for the last three years.
Fringe shows have been staged in St Andrew Square Garden for the last three years.

Australian promoter David Bates says it appears “time has finally run out” for the Famous Spiegeltent after it was “turfed out” of St Andrew Square Garden after three years.

He has blamed “big business” and “corporate interests” for a clampdown on Fringe shows in the garden, which was opened to the public in 2008 after a £2.8 million makeover funded by the city council and Scottish Enterprise.

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Earlier this month it emerged the owners of the square – who include financial giants RBS and Standard Life, as well as property developer Chris Stewart – had demanded a Fringe clampdown on the space, which is managed by business group Essential Edinburgh on behalf of the city council, to turn it into “a space for relaxation” in August.

Mr Bates said frantic efforts to find an alternative home for his venue, which created work for 500 staff and contractors and provided a stage for more than 1000 performing artists, had drawn a blank. He said he had already lost out on a number of major international artists for this year’s Fringe.

Mr Bates added: “The seemingly casual and mean-spirited dismissal of the artistic, economic and community value that the Famous Spiegeltent and the St Andrew Square festival project have brought over the past three years is quite simply astounding and bears closer investigation.

“There has been no explanation from the city council, Essential Edinburgh or the big business owners themselves as to why St Andrew Square cannot be used for summer festival activity.”

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society said: “We’ve been urgently seeking a resolution to the challenges relating to St Andrew Square. We’re in ongoing conversation with the council, Essential Edinburgh and other parties involved with the hope of reaching a resolution that works for all.

“We’ve already had confirmation from a major stakeholder that they’re not, in principle, opposed to it being used as a venue for the Fringe, and we take this as a positive message.

We continue to seek a way forward that works for the city, for business and for the extraordinary artists and promoters that give Edinburgh international recognition as the premier festival city in its 70th anniversary year.”

A spokeswoman for the city council added: “We’re aware of the issues facing St Andrew Square’s owners and festival promoters and this year’s decision to change the use of the space. This is an important 70th anniversary year for the festivals and we remain committed to finding solutions.”

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Roddy Smith, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which represents the owners around St Andrew Square, said: “The owners want the square to be used, but in an appropriate fashion. Large structures which wreck the square are inappropriate. The thing to remember here is that it is a private square. The owners want it to be a predominantly quiet, green space.”