Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens: Protests over revival of events are baffling – Brian Ferguson

It has been a heady couple of weeks for the Scottish music industry with the return of full capacity audiences, reopening of venues and TRNSMT festival’s comeback on Glasgow Green.

Music events have been staged in Princes Street Gardens since 1877. Picture: Ryan Johnston

One thing that has been obvious from my social media feeds is that the revival of gigs has given thousands of people their first lockdown taste of live entertainment again, in iconic venues such as Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballrooom and the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

Elsewhere in the capital, work is underway to reopen the Ross Bandstand for its first major event in nearly two years.

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Around 12,000 dance music fans are expected to flock to West Princes Street Gardens this weekend for the Fly Open Air festival, a regular fixture in September in recent pre-Covid years.

After overseeing the widely acclaimed revival for Edinburgh’s summer festivals, it was notable that the city council highlighted a ‘Team Edinburgh’ approach behind the scenes to ensure the festival could be given the green light.

The Ross Bandstand is one of the last cultural venues in the city to come back to life after its Covid-enforced closure, a few days after the return of audiences to the Playhouse.

Given that all Fly Open Air tickets have long since been snapped up, the demand from the public is clearly there for events in the gardens.

But despite hosting music events as far back as 1877, the year after the gardens opened, the return of Fly Open Air, which was staged for several festivals has sparked fresh protests over the use of one of the city’s most historic cultural venues.

The Fly Open Air festival will be staged in West Princes Street Gardens this weekend.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh’s longest-running heritage watchdog, which was formed just two years before the first audiences attended events in the gardens, has attempted to prevent its comeback.

After all, it made headlines in the run-up to this year’s summer festivals in Edinburgh by warning that a “thoughtless and short-term approach” to events by the city council and a “festivalisation" of public spaces, such as the gardens, posed a risk to the city’s world heritage status.

Now it has effectively demanded that all-ticket events should no longer be staged in the gardens, and claimed that music festivals and concerts are “not consistent" with the values of the gardens.

This would perhaps be understandable if the gardens did not have such a long history for hosting events, most of which have been all-ticket for several decades.

These events are of course staged in and around the park’s bandstand and a concrete arena for spectators that is closed to the public when events are not being held.

While music events are never going to be everyone’s taste, it seems unarguable that they open up public access to the gardens, rather than shut it down, at a site that has been a key part of the city’s heritage for nearly 150 years.

It is a mystery to me why choking the recovery of the cultural sector is more of a priority than ensuring a sustainable future for a historic venue, albeit one that has seen better days.

Would the Cockburn Association seriously prefer the city to have an empty, neglected and run-down facility that is continually closed off to the public rather than a revival which ensures it is in regular use?

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