Public faces Calton Hill ban at night in bid to cut crime

IT IS one of Edinburgh's best-known beauty spots, famed for panoramic views of the capital.

But Calton Hill could soon be out of bounds after dark under plans to clamp down on crime and antisocial behaviour.

The hill would be sealed off after dark under plans being considered by council officials.

The measure is understood to have been proposed in a bid to tackle problems caused by teenage drinkers, vandals, drug addicts, homeless people and rent boys – as well as help protect the historic buildings and statues on the hill.

Tourist coaches were recently barred from heading up Calton Hill under a strict ban on traffic to protect the landscape and curb problems with joyriders and cars being abandoned.

The city council is about to start drawing up the first proper "management plan" for Calton Hill, which will include proposals to extend its use for special events, open new visitor facilities in the old astronomy buildings and improve lighting.

However, one proposal is to seal the hill off at dusk. Council sources say the idea has been suggested by the police although it is understood that the local authority would enforce the move, through the installation of new gates, improved fencing and staff on duty.

Lothian and Borders Police could not provide any detailed crime figures for Calton Hill yesterday, but it is understood there has been a rise in incidents of violence and vandalism over the last two years.

Dorothy Marsh, keeper of conservation at the city council, said: "We're going to be looking at the long-term future of the hill over the next couple of years and how it could be improved as a visitor experience.

"One idea is to look at introducing similar measures to Princes Street Gardens, which are closed off every night after being cleared by our staff. But Calton Hill would be much more difficult to enforce because of the nature of the space."

A senior council source said: "The move to restrict traffic up on Calton Hill has been hugely successful, but it's still seen as a no-go area by a lot of people. The council is very keen to improve its use and attract more people there, but it's not safe enough to do that at present."

Regent Terrace resident Derek Francis, 55, said: "We've always felt the best way to improve safety on the hill was to increase the number of organised events there. They should be capable of something more imaginative than simply closing it off."

Angus Farquhar, founder of the Beltane Fire Festival, which is staged on the hill annually, said: "It would be a terrible shame if the council went ahead with a move like this simply because of a few bad apples."

Council will face an uphill battle to sell this idea to the people

THERE are quite a number of vantage points which show Edinburgh in all its splendour, but there is nowhere quite like Calton Hill. You obviously have the option of climbing Arthur's Seat, although it is not particularly safe to go up there at night, and the Scott Monument is not always open.

Calton Hill is the one vantage point everybody knows about, because it is so easy to access. People are taken up there to be interviewed or photographed because its view of the city is so well known.

If the council is to restrict access to it, I have no doubt that it would be a hugely retrograde step.

Princes Street Gardens is a different sort of environment from Calton Hill because of the need for the area to be regularly cultivated by council staff. Calton Hill often offers the best views when darkness falls and the city comes alive with light.

If there are difficulties with safety and antisocial behaviour, then that would seem to be an argument for much greater police vigilance. We must ensure that nothing untoward is going on there, but that should not be used as an argument for closing it off to the public.

Various proposals to improve Calton Hill, including new buildings and features, have come and gone over the years, always being met with huge opposition by the people of Edinburgh.

I think they will be hugely opposed to this idea.

&#149 Eric Milligan is a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh.