One of Scotland’s leading performing arts venues is at loggerheads with city leaders after being forced to remove all advertising from the front of its building – thanks to the protests of a lone objector.
Bosses at the Queen’s Hall, in Edinburgh’s Clerk Street, said the city council had ordered the removal of posters and banners which had been hanging off the venue for as long as 30 years.
Chief executive Adrian Harris said he was unaware of the venue ever having a single complaint from the council or anyone else. Despite this, it has been accused of flouting strict planning regulations and using “cluttered” promotional material on the facade of the A-listed former church building.
Dating back to 1822, the hall is one of the few venues in the city capable of hosting pop, rock, classical, jazz and spoken word events. Among those to appear at the venue over the years are Nicola Benedetti, Mogwai, Pulp, Blur and The Proclaimers.
The advertising ban is the latest in a series of problems suffered by the venue, which hosts around 200 concerts each year. It was forced to shelve a multi-million-pound overhaul due to concerns about the impact on the historic auditorium and was also threatened with having its annual funding cut by the council, which has mooted the idea of trying to get a new purpose-built venue off the ground.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
It is understood the cost of a small-scale advertising scheme that will satisfy the city’s planners is around £10,000 – roughly a tenth of its annual subsidy from the council.
The 900-capacity hall, one of the city’s few medium-sized venues, is used extensively by the Fringe, Edinburgh International Festival and the capital’s Jazz & Blues Festival every summer.
The treatment of the Queen’s Hall has emerged in the wake of mounting levels of red tape faced by operators of live music venues in the capital. Council chiefs have pledged to set up a task force to tackle concerns that there are too many restrictions on gig operators.
However, Mr Harris said: “Two officers from the planning department came down here, they placed an enforcement notice on the Queen’s Hall and now I cannot advertise our gigs on the front of the buiding.
“Some of the things we’ve had to take down have been on the front of our building for 30 years. Nothing at all has changed for at least five years. But a single complainer has had the power to have all that removed.
“The only feedback I’ve had from the council is to tell me that they are ‘minded’ to support the complainant. But there’s no reason given in the enforcement notice from the council, other than telling us what to take down, and I’ve no idea who has made the complaint, as they won’t tell me.
“When you go up the food chain at the council and talk to people who have a degree of intelligence you find yourself with a bit of flexibility, but the problem is we’re now involved in a legal process.
“The bottom line is we now have to produce a scheme that an enforcement officer might be ‘minded’ to support that is going to cost a lot of money that we could be investing in our gigs.”
A spokeswoman for the city council said: “We are committed to ensuring that Edinburgh’s built heritage and the character of its urban areas are safeguarded for the future. It was brought to our attention that adverts and banners at the Queen’s Hall did not have appropriate consents and, considering the venue is a listed building, we asked the venue to remove them.
“We understand the frustration felt by representatives of the Queen’s Hall, which is why members of the planning department met the venue’s chief executive recently. We discussed how the previous advertising could not continue because of the building’s listed status, and solutions for alternative adverts to be installed that are more sympathetic to the building and its surroundings.”
Norma Austin Hart, the council’s deputy culture leader, admitted the authority had “dropped the ball” with the Queen’s Hall case, due to the way it had been handled by officials.
She added: “I have a lot of sympathy with the difficulties that the Queen’s Hall has had with this. The council is basically caught between a rock and a hard place. We are trying to reach a compromise.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS