Princes Street Gardens Fly Open Air festival faces chop as Council chiefs accused of 'cultural snobbery'

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COUNCIL chiefs have been accused of “cultural snobbery” over claims that a dance music festival staged in Princes Street Gardens for the last three years is facing cancellation over strict new rules about the staging of events in the historic park below Edinburgh Castle.

Organisers of Fly Open Air, which has attracted crowds of up to 3000 to the Ross Bandstand, say conditions being demanded by the city council would make it “impossible” to stage the event there in future.

Fly Open Air

Fly Open Air

They have demanded a rethink over the extra conditions, which are aimed at cutting down the amount of space used in the gardens for all-ticket events, as they would cut its capacity by a third and make the event “unsafe, overcrowded and unviable”.

They have blamed “heightened scrutiny” on the use of the park for events for the clampdown by the council, which has been pursuing plans for a £25 million revamp of the gardens which it is pursuing with a hotel developer, Norman Springford.

READ MORE: Diggers move in to Edinburgh’s East Princes Street Gardens

The authority came under fire last summer for its handling of a series of new pop and rock concerts in the gardens during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Parks officials and councillors have told organisers of the dance music event that they are not allowed any infrastructure, including medical facilities, catering vans, toilets or production facilities, outside the bandstand arena, which is largely surrounded by hedges.

Fly Open Air’s organisers have written to every city councillor to ask that the festival either be exempted from the new rules or treated as a “large event” from this September, a designation which would need West Princes Street Gardens to be completely closed to the public.

However the latter move would breach a pledge given by the council that it will not allow any more events to go ahead which restrict access to the gardens following concerns over increasing commercialisation and “festivalisation” of public space in the city centre.

Edinburgh-based promoters Fly Events say the festival, which expanded into a second day in 2018, has grown to become Scotland’s largest youth music event and has attracted some of the world’s biggest names in electronic music since it was launched in 2016.

They say the event has generated almost £10 million for the economy in its first three years, with around 53 per cent of ticket sales being snapped up by overseas fans of the likes of Kerr Chandler, Henrick Schwarz, Peggy Gou, Lil’ Louis and Eats Everything.

Promoter Fly Events, which also stages festivals in the grounds of Hopetoun House, near South Queensferry, claims it is “grossly unfair” that it has been hit with new restrictions due to “heightened scrutiny” on events in Princes Street Gardens following the staging of the new Edinburgh Summer Sessions festival last August.

Controversy flared after black-out barriers erected on Princes Street on the insistence of the city council to ensure public safety on the road and pavements blocked out views of Edinburgh Castle, even on days when no events were on.

READ MORE: ‘Heartbreaking’ - Edinburgh reacts to picture of Princes Street Gardens looking like ploughed field

The number of Summer Sessions concerts during this year’s Fringe has been almost doubled from five to nine this year, with Florence & The Machine, Primal Scream, Chvrches, Lewis Capaldi, James and Madness in the 2019 line-up.

It emerged last month that a second new series of concerts had been given the green light by the city council. Tribute acts to Elvis Presley, Queen, The Jam and Status Quo are among the acts lined up for the Edinburgh Summer Fiesta in July.

It is understood that the council has decided against imposing a limit on the number of events in the gardens which require them to be closed to the public. Instead, organisers of all but the biggest events are to be told to ensure full access to the gardens is maintained.

Fly Events director Tom Ketley said: “Council staff could not have been more supportive in helping this event grow. However, having operated successfully in Princes Street Gardens for the past three years, we have now been told that September’s event must scale back in size and cannot have the same footprint it did previously. Council officers have said the event must be restricted to the confines of the Ross Theatre and unfortunately these changes would make it impossible for our event to go ahead.

“It would be unsafe and overcrowded with no space for queue management and search lanes. Plus, all medical, food, power and bar provisions would need to be placed on the dance floor of the event arena – creating additional overcrowding and significantly impacting on the capacity of the show.

“Officers also asked that there would be no event perimeter, which would cause huge public safety concerns. These suggestions make the show unviable.

“Despite discussions with officers on these points, I am advised that due to heightened scrutiny on operations within the park due to other events coming in and causing issues, it would therefore mean Fly Open Air cannot take place this year. We find this grossly unfair.

“I want to make the case that young people in our city deserve the right to use the space. I want diversity in Edinburgh’s music scene and for the council to continue to support an event that it helped create.”

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Nick Stewart, owner of music venue Sneaky Pete’s and a leading figure in the recent Keep Music Audible campaign in Edinburgh, said: “It sounds like the council is not being supportive of a very well run event that has given joy to a huge amount of Edinburgh’s youth. An element of cultural snobbery may be taking place where dance music events, loved by young people, are seen as low culture, and therefore less worthy of support.

“We don’t think authorities should decide which music events do or don’t go ahead based on their genre content: audiences should dictate that. Fly has a large, dedicated and very lovely audience.”

A spokeswoman for the city council said: “We are still in discussions with the Fly Events around arrangements for their proposed September events.”