Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens: Public asked for views on £25 million revamp plans including Hobbit House

A dramatic new vision has emerged of how Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens will look if a £25 million revamp to allow it to host more year-round events and open up access to visitors every day gets the green light.

Images showing how the historic park will be overhauled by a Hobbit House-style replacement for the existing Ross Bandstand, a grass-covered amphitheatre, a two-storey visitor and hospitality centre overlooking Edinburgh Castle and a permanent cafe near the Ross Fountain have been released as part of a major public consultation on the project.

The pavilion, which the trust says will be designed to “seamlessly blend” into the surrounding landscape, will feature a glazed front screen to help cater for intimate weather-proof events on stage for up to 200 people, as well as backstage facilities, dressing rooms, a cloakroom and a box office.

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The amphitheatre will be able to accommodate crowds of around 6000 people, similar to the existing open-air arena, which dated back to 1935. Income generated from night-time events and functions in the visitor centre would support the maintenance of the gardens and subsidise community use of the new facilities.

A team of developers, architects and designers behind the proposed revamp of the historic park have spent more than two years drawing up detailed plans for the scheme since an American-led consortium won an international design contest.

It was instigated by the Ross Development Trust, which was set up by Norman Springford, the founder of Apex Hotels and a former owner of the Edinburgh Playhouse. Councillors agreed to allow him to help pay for new facilities in 2016 after admitting the bandstand was “no longer fit for purpose”.

Significant changes to the scheme include scaling back the design of the proposed “welcome centre” – which will offer direct access to the gardens from Princes Street – to lower its height and cut back the amount of glass it will feature. Paths have been redesigned to maximise the amount of green space, with stone seating expected to surround a grassy “meadow”, replacing the current concrete bowl.

The trust, which is launching a major consultation ahead of an official planning application in February, has pledged that its plans would “reimagine the gardens as a space for all to celebrate and enjoy in new ways” and will be “sensitive to the past” but designed to “maximise” their future potential.

David Ellis, managing director of The Quaich Project, a public-private partnership set up by the trust and the Edinburgh City Council to pursue the project, said the new vision was aimed at transforming the gardens from a difficult-to-access place that can be extremely quiet outside peak times to “one of the best public spaces in the world”.

He added: “These latest designs represent over four years’ worth of feedback and advice from key stakeholders and organisations across the city. Before we go any further, we need to make sure that the wider public is properly consulted and we’re keen to hear from them what they think about the designs. We’ll then act on feedback received.

“It is essential we make the correct improvements and that the people of Edinburgh get the chance to have their say on how that is done.”

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The new blueprint, masterminded by architects based in New York and Los Angeles, is aimed at ensuring the gardens are seen as being “on a par” with famous international parks like New York’s High Line and Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. The plans are said to respect the “cultural and historical significance” of the gardens, while ensuring they remain “a space of tranquillity that everyone can enjoy amidst the bustle of the city centre”.

The consultation states: “Throughout the year, the gardens will play host to events large and small – from international artists’ performances to community events and local dance groups – with world-class facilities and architectural designs helping to enhance the quality of every performance.”

Promoters involved in shaping the plans include DF Concerts, Underbelly, Regular Music and Unique Events.

Other consultees include community groups, Edinburgh World Heritage, the Cockburn Association and Historic Environment Scotland.