Poll: Three quarters of public back £25m Hobbit House year-round events arena in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh

Three out of four members of the public are in favour of more year-round events being staged in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens, according to an opinion poll instigated by the developers behind a proposed £25m revamp of the historic park.

More events would be staged throughout the year if a 25 million revamp of West Princes Street Gardens gets the green light.
More events would be staged throughout the year if a 25 million revamp of West Princes Street Gardens gets the green light.

The survey for the Ross Development Trust found more than two thirds of people were in favour of a wide-ranging transformation of the gardens, which have been largely unchanged since their creation in the 19th century.

The “Quaich Project,” which the trust is pursuing with the city council, would see a Hobbit House-style replacement for the existing Ross Bandstand, a two-storey visitor centre and hospitality complex overlooking Edinburgh Castle and a permanent cafe near the Ross Fountain.

The Ross Development Trust, set up by Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford to pursue the development, said 68 per cent of respondents backed the overall vision for the historic park, with 74 per backing the new-look pavilion and amphitheatre which would host the majority of events.

Access to West Princes Street Gardens would be opened up under the vision to building a visitor centre for the 'Quaich Project.'

However 27 per cent were opposed or concerned over the scale of changes proposed in the gardens, with nearly a quarter against their use for year-round events. Arts events and “celebrations” were also rated the least important use for the gardens, after nature, the most popular, reflection and community.

Large-scale ticketed events of varying capacities were staged across 22 days in the gardens last year, the largest number for more than a decade, with some closing the gardens to non ticket-holders.

The Quaich Project said the proposed replacement of the “outdated and inflexible” facilities at the existing bandstand, which dates back to 1935, would “open up possibilities” for the expanded use of the park throughout the year.

Under the redevelopment, the gardens would continue to host events like the “Summer Sessions” pop and rock concerts, the Fly Open Air dance music festival, the festival fireworks concert, the city’s Hogmanay celebrations and other one-off events.

A two-storey visitor centre overlooking Edinburgh Castle would include cafe-bar facilities, lifts and toilets and a new entrance from Princes Street.

Income from ticketed events would be used to help subsidise more use of the gardens for smaller-scale live music, theatre, dance, comedy and children’s events, as well as help maintain them properly.

According to the online survey, which 1077 people took part in, 74 per cent people of people would also visit the gardens either as much as or more than at present if the plans go ahead. Nearly 90 per cent of those who took part were Edinburgh residents.

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.

David Ellis, the Quaich Project’s managing director, said: “The results of the public consultation on the designs have been incredibly encouraging.

“As the product of four years’ of engagement with stakeholders and the people of Edinburgh, the designs presented at the most recent public consultation will transform West Princes Street Gardens, making it more accessible, open and useful for all.

“We also asked people if they were in favour of a small number of major events facilitating smaller, community-focused events and it’s heartening to receive the backing of almost three-quarters of respondents for this approach.

"Currently, the Ross Bandstand is outdated and inflexible and the plans we’re putting forward open up possibilities for a whole range of community groups and activities around the year.

“While the results of the consultation are positive, we appreciate that – as with any proposal of a similar scale – some people still have reservations.

“West Princes Street Gardens is a place for everyone to enjoy, so feedback from the public consultation will feed into the further development of plans.

“We believe that West Princes Street Gardens has the potential to be one of the best public spaces in the world, and we thank everyone who took part in the consultation for their input and contribution to make that vision a reality.”