Calls for emergency review of Christmas Market as lack of required planning permission revealed

The scaffolding for the Christmas Market.
The scaffolding for the Christmas Market.
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The Capital’s leading heritage body has called for an emergency review of Edinburgh’s Christmas Market as it emerged last night organisers do not actually have planning permission for the event.

The Cockburn Association’s director, Terry Levinthal said last night the £110 million market should not open on November 16 unless a solution or a planning application is found following the 11th hour revelations.

The scaffolding over East Princes Street Gardens

The scaffolding over East Princes Street Gardens

Even a stop order, which would force the halt construction of the Christmas Market’s construction – the biggest of its kind in Scotland – has been suggested as a “nuclear option” for the dispute.

The Christmas Market, run by Underbelly, is expanding this year, taking over more of the gardens in a revamped layout with a record 163 stalls and bars spread across East Princes Street Gardens and The Mound precinct.

Pictures of the scaffolding going up sparked an outcry earlier this week with one angry objector labelling it “hyper-bloated commercialism”.

Last night, it emerged that the new scaffolding did in fact require planning permission but did not have it.

Edinburgh City Council said discussions with event organisers Underbelly are ongoing, while Underbelly said it is in the process of compiling a planning application.

Mr Levinthal; said: “Things such as the Christmas Market can be a great asset to the city and they can create a really good buzz, but they can also become too big and too disruptive. We must never assume that the ever-expanding Christmas Market or Hogmanay is always going to be a good thing for the city. The market should not open on November 16 now unless there is a remedy or process in place that has been agreed to in some sort of public process such as a planning application or if needed, a stop order.

“That nuclear option should be there and it should be communicated that this is an option that should be considered.

“There was no doubt from what we understand that Underbelly was made aware of what its obligations are. The expansion of the Christmas market has not gone through any public discussion.

“There should be in the contract and in the procurement of Underbelly as the contractor for the Christmas market some degree of penalty clause that enables the council to exert its control over a contractor who has failed to operate within public practices.”

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: “Edinburgh’s Christmas continues to grow in popularity and not just with visitors.

“Just last year over 186,000 tickets were purchased for Christmas rides, attractions and shows by resident’s using their 20 per cent discount (a 31 per cent increase on 2017).

“This year’s infrastructure is in place to ensure that the Gardens – including the areas benefiting from National Galleries of Scotland’s improvement works – are preserved. The redesign of the space will also address the concerns last year around large crowds and circulation.

“Discussions between Underbelly and planning officers are ongoing."

An Underbelly spokesman said: “Underbelly agreed with the Council that it was not possible to make a planning application until the plans had been agreed with the Council as the landlord of Edinburgh’s Christmas.

“Discussions about the plans began with the Council in April and were not agreed until October 12. Following that agreement, Underbelly is now compiling its planning application which it will submit at the earliest possible opportunity.

“The scaffold currently going in allows the Christmas market to continue in the gardens while working round the ongoing changes to the landscape and also ensures we are taking every measure to protect the gardens.”