I read with interest Cliff Hague’s latest views on the Summer Sessions taking place in Princes Street Gardens (Scotland on Sunday, August 17) and wanted to take the opportunity to paint a fuller and fairer picture.
We’re rightly proud of Princes Street Gardens and are acutely aware of their importance to the community and to our Capital city.
We want our city centre to be a place where people of all ages can feel relaxed, safe, and happy spending time – but I can’t help but think Mr Hague and I differ on our definition of “all”. The Ross Bandstand is an iconic part of the gardens and has been loved by different generations, for generations. Different generations continue to want to spend time there, so who are we to cater to one over the other?
Mr Hague believes the Festival Fireworks concert “really does need the Castle as its backdrop”. Whilst I agree it is the perfect backdrop, I do wonder why this should only be for one event and one audience? Summer Sessions have proven to be hugely popular with residents and visitors alike and we know that performing against one of the world’s iconic skylines means a lot to both the artists and the audiences. A browse of social media would readily prove my point.
All event arrangements are discussed and agreed at monthly planning meetings involving a wide range of partners including the council, event organisers, Police Scotland and transport providers. In this case, screening on Princes Street was required because crowds gathering on the pavement could block access for pedestrians and might spill out on to the road – putting themselves and other road users at risk.
Mr Hague criticises these measures but omits the fact these were in place for event times only. Following feedback last year, we ensured that access to the Gardens on concert days was increased and that the curtain-style screen took significantly less time to set up and take down. The fact also remains that, at its current level of events and activities, the Gardens are open to the public for more than 98 per cent of the year with only 70 of the 4,567 public access hours utilised for larger scale events – including Hogmanay.
So, to suggest that this is commercialisation of our gardens is an unfair exaggeration – particularly when the income generated is invested back into our city’s parks. We want community activities too, but to be able to offer these in our award-winning parks, a few bigger events really do help. Mr Hague references New York’s Bryant Park – and I agree it’s fantastic – but this misleads the reader by not referring to franchises and sponsorships that make that possible.
Of course, there’s a bigger picture here, far beyond the Summer Sessions. Princes Street Gardens belong to everyone and, through the Quaich Project, we want to transform the Ross Bandstand and West Princes Gardens into a space than can be used and loved by all.
Our plans will reduce park closures and disruption, creating a diverse events programme that will support more community-led activity all year round. There will be no more large events than there are now. Residents and stakeholders will have ongoing opportunities to engage with the project, including further public consultation, to shape the future of the Gardens – creating more and better green space for us all to enjoy.
Donald Wilson is culture convener on Edinburgh City Council.