Deal is struck to re-ignite Beltane

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THE spectacular Beltane Fire Festival is set to return to the Capital this year after organisers struck a deal with the council to lease Calton Hill for a night.

The agreement, which puts the fire festival on a formal footing for the first time, will mean revellers being charged between 2 and 4 to go on to the hill to watch the celebrations.

The number of people attending the event, which has attracted crowds of 15,000 in the past, will be limited to 12,000 as part of the new arrangement.

The move comes after the event was cancelled last year for the first time in its 15-year history. It failed to go ahead after council officials insisted the Beltane Fire Society needed a public entertainment licence.

The festival had been attracting criticism because of the amount of rubbish it generated, complaints of disruption to local residents and fears over the safety of revellers. The event is now expected to go ahead this year, with organisers agreeing to a string of conditions imposed by Edinburgh City Council.

As well as the limit on numbers, the festival will be forced to finish at 1am and provide stewarding to ensure crowd safety.

The deal is expected to be approved by councillors at a meeting next week.

Organisers are introducing the entrance charge to meet the cost of providing stewards. City leisure leader Ricky Henderson said: "There will be some fairly robust conditions placed on their licence."

The festival, planned for April 30, features 300 performers, and celebrates the beginning of summer in the old Celtic calendar. Beltane has been staged at Calton Hill since 1988 and has attracted visitors from all over the world.

Calton ward councillor Dougie Kerr said this year’s event was the organisers’ last chance to prove they could operate the festival without disruption to neighbours.

Councillor Kerr said: "If it’s going to come back, I’m determined it’s going to come back on a proper footing. It has caused a number of problems and concerns in the past and it’s not just problems to the residents. I have been seriously concerned about public safety at this event and I think in the past it has been non-existent."

But Cllr Henderson said organisers realised there would have to be controls to ensure the festival runs smoothly.

"I think the impression the officials have got from dealing with the Beltane Fire Society is that people seem to be far more serious and professional in their approach," he said.

A spokesman for the Beltane Fire Society said: "There has been much support for a return for Beltane to Calton Hill this year.

"We’re currently in the process of submitting an application to the council and as part of our plan, we have for the first time applied to ticket the event.

"We realise that this is a break from our usual practice, but faced with growing costs and ever decreasing donations from event-goers, we feel that ticketing has become necessary.

"We hope it will allow us to properly cover the costs of the event and help us produce a better organised, more enjoyable and sustainable event.

"Tickets for the event would be sold in advance, and we’re working hard to keep the price as low as possible so that we do not restrict access to the event."

The Beltane Fire Society has also agreed to stop the use of drums at 1am and finish cleaning Calton Hill by 9am on May 1.

The Beltane Fire Festival takes the form of a procession which snakes around the hill between points entitled fire, air, earth and water.