The Evening News can reveal that the city council is in advanced talks with a private firm that wants to put a 60 metres-tall wheel in East Princes Street Gardens, close to the entrance of the cafe/restaurant at the National Galleries of Scotland.
It is hoped that the wheel – roughly the same height as the Scott Monument – will be in place by May and operate for five months until October, before being dismantled and taken away.
Council chiefs estimate that the attraction could bring £1.4 million of extra spending to Edinburgh over the five-month period, as well as providing a boost to footfall in and around Princes Street at a time when many traders are feeling the pinch.
It will also add to the attractions and festivals on offer in Edinburgh as they compete against the London Olympics for tourists’ money.
It will come at no cost to the taxpayer as private firm Great City Attractions (GCA) will pay all the costs of building and operating the wheel.
Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie said: “We are conducting negotiations with operators of a big wheel about potential sites in Edinburgh. We discussed sites like Leith but they felt there was not enough footfall there and that they needed a city centre site, as other sites they have in cities like Belfast and Cardiff are in the city centre.
“We did not think it would be appropriate to have it on the Princes Street level so they agreed to site it down where the ice rink used to be, and I believe the National Galleries are excited about more people being down at that area.
“It does not take up much footprint and there will be a lot of landscaping work around it. It is a spectacular wheel and the booths are fully enclosed with their own speakers, so it becomes a proper experience.
“Of course, it will be thrilling to go up that high but the additional aspect of learning about the city will make it even better.”
GCA, which has pledged to reinstate the ground and grass when it takes the wheel away, had originally planned a much bigger Ferris wheel of up to 120 metres tall in Edinburgh in 2009, but the Birmingham-based firm announced last July that it had cancelled its proposal because the council’s failure to take the tram line to Leith would have a major impact on its financial viability.
The Princes Street Gardens wheel, which will take up an area of land measuring 25 metres by 20.45m, will require approval by a council committee and may need planning consent as well.
No details of ticket prices have been confirmed yet, but GCA charges £8.50 per adult for a ride on the Wheel of York, next to the city’s railway station.
Discussions are continuing about any fee that GCA would have to pay the council for lease of the land, although the authority may also look for a share of the profit on tickets sold, with money raised going towards city projects.
Councillor Cardownie dismissed any fears about negative impacts on the heritage of the city.
He said: “I’m confident it won’t have a detrimental impact on views of the Castle because you’ll still be able to take photos from The Mound or Waverley Bridge, and people might even want to include the big wheel in their photos.”
IT’S OUR TURN NEXT
FERRIS wheels have sprung up across the UK in recent years as cities look for new ways for visitors to enjoy breathtaking views.
The world’s largest ferris wheel is the Singapore Flyer, with the observation wheel opened in 2008 which reaches 42 stories high, with a total height of 165 metres.
The London Eye, built to mark the millennium and the world’s tallest at the time, takes passengers up 135 metres. Many cities are building temporary wheels for the summer. Great City Attractions operates wheels in Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Plymouth and York.