Public fury at Edinburgh festival impact reaches an all-time peak

Edinburgh's Festival Fringe.
Edinburgh's Festival Fringe.
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The future of Edinburgh’s world-famous festivals is at risk by growing public anger over their impact, an official report has revealed.

City council officials have warned that “negativity” towards the festivals and the city’s tourism industry is at an all-time high.

Dissatisfaction has been growing steadily over the last five years, according to the findings of new opinion polling carried out among people living and working in the city.

An official council report on the findings has warned that public perception of the festivals has deteriorated so much it should be regarded as a “strategic risk” to their future.

This is despite a record 67 per cent of local residents saying they have attended a festival in Edinburgh over the previous two years.

The council’s warning has been issued in the wake of mounting concern from heritage bodies about the number of people flocking into the historic heart of the city during major events.

A separate report published by the council in January warned that the city was struggling to cope with the mass influx of visitors to the city during peak periods.

Mounting problems with traffic and crowd bottlenecks in the Old and New Towns, the reliability of public transport and the inability of people to “get on with normal life” were all cited.

The new report for the city council on the findings of surveys of more than 5000 residents said: “Six per cent of participants now believe the festivals make Edinburgh a worse place to live. This indicator has increased each year for the last five years, from less than half of one per cent when it was first measured.

“Growing negativity towards the festivals and Edinburgh’s tourism economy is also observable in the feedback to the council’s budget 
engagements.

“Public perception of the festivals may have reached a level where it represents a strategic risk to the long-term success of the city region.”

Nicholas Hotham, head of external relations at Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “We are supportive of the festivals, and believe they bring a creative dynamism to the city that is unique.

“But we would ask that the communities who live in the busiest areas are asked for their views and thoughts on the changes required in their management.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “As home to the biggest arts festival in the world, we’re delighted to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city every summer to enjoy its record-breaking programme of events.

“Not only does this place the capital firmly on the global cultural stage, but creates a vibrant, exciting atmosphere for the vast majority of those who live here and participate, enriching the city both economically and culturally.

“There is no doubt this swelling in population requires management, but by working closely with the festivals and other partners we’re looking at ways of supporting their success.

“It is crucial for the festivals to remain sustainable and for our services to continue running smoothly, which is also why we will continue to 
take forward our plans to introduce a tourism visitor levy, which will allow the city to further benefit from its own popularity and the council to reinvest funds into priority areas.”

Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, which works with the city’s main festivals, said: “The festivals have strong approval from 76 per cent of residents who think they make Edinburgh a better place to live, so the six per cent who say the opposite needs to be seen in perspective – especially given that the survey also indicates the highest ever level of resident participation in the festivals.

“The quality of audience experiences is critical to the reputation of our world-leading festival city and we’re committed to working with city partners to manage the risks.”