Record numbers of armed police will be on the streets and extra anti-terror barriers deployed amid the tightest ever security operation mounted at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations.
Additional road closures have been ordered this year as part of a series of “precautionary” measures put in place to protect Scotland’s biggest new year festivities.
Police chiefs have urged revellers to be on alert for suspicious behaviour well over 100,000 people expected to descend on the city centre over the next two evenings.
Revellers are being urged not to bring any bags to the event for the first time, with a “fast-track” entry system in place to help avoid the need to search everyone entering the main arena.
Officers in charge of the security operation insisted people should not be alarmed by moves to step up the presence of armed officers at the events, stressing there was “no specific intelligence” that they were under threat of an attack.
Thousands of tickets for the celebrations, which are traditionally worth around £40 million to the city’s economy, remain on sale, including the torchlight procession curtainraiser, which will follow a new route down the Royal Mile to the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Park, and the 60,000 capacity street party on Hogmanay itself.
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A wider ring of steel than normal is to be put in place around the event to prevent vehicles being driven into crowds of revellers.
The move will see a number of thoroughfares outwith the main arena closed to traffic during the main celebrations on Hogmanay, including George Street, St Andrew Square, Castle Street, Frederick Street and North St David Street. The Lawnmarket, Parliament Square, Cockburn Street and George IV Bridge will also be subject to road closures.
Security was stepped up on and around the Royal Mile this summer when new anti-terror barriers were put in place days before the start of the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe
Chief Superintendent Kenny MacDonald, Police Scotland’s divisional commander for Edinburgh, said: “For this year, the main difference is we felt it was appropriate to have a more overt armed policing deployment, which I think the public would expect.
“People will certainly see them at the main entrance gates, but they may well also see them either within the footprint of the event, or elsewhere in the city centre.
“People should not be alarmed by the presence of these professional and highly-trained officers. They are being deployed purely as a precaution. There is no specific intelligence relating to a potential threat about a threat to either the torchlight procession or the street party.
“However the UK-wide threat level currently sits at severe, which means an attack is highly likely. We are working within that general context. There have been a number of attacks in the UK this year. We need to be cognisant of that and take appropriate measures.
“In addition to the police officers and stewards present on Hogmanay, a range of vehicles, barriers and bollards will also be utilised, which prevent vehicles accessing the event arena. Again, this is purely a precautionary measure.
“We have worked with the city council and the event organisers, Underbelly, to deploy a system where we can provide good mitigation against any potential vehicle attack. In terms of the visibility to the public, it will appear as if there is a higher level of security this year.
“We will have appropriate resources in place throughout to offer reassurance to those in attendance and deal with any issues, which may arise.
“We would encourage anyone requiring assistance, or who witnesses any suspicious activity, at any point to approach one of or our officers, who will respond accordingly.”
Underbelly director Charlie Wood said: “Obviously the whole security situation in the UK has changed over the last few years. Fast-track queues for people without bags are a new thing for Hogmanay, but they are in line with many major events and concerts now.
“I would strongly encourage people not to bring a bag to the event on Hogmanay. If they do bring one along, it should be a small one, and no larger than A4 size.
“We obviously want people to wrap up warm for the event, but we think that they should be able to hold everything they need for the evening.
“The security arrangements for the events, including the road closures around the main arena, are a bit different from previous years. People are naturally more alert give the incidents that have happened around the world.
“But the arrangements that will be in place, which we’ve been planning and discussing since June, will be entirely appropriate and proportionate.
“We’ve seen armed police on the streets of Edinburgh during the summer festivals and during the Christmas events. They provide reassurance to people. They expect it and want it.”
Meanwhile Underbelly said it expects around 20,000 people to line the new route of the opening night fire parade, which will see up to 17,000 torch-bearers head down the High Street and the Canongate from 7pm.
Around 2000 participants are then expected to spell out the public’s choice from a shortlist of inspirational words about Scotland.
The creation of the #ScotWord image, which will be captured via a helicopter which will fly above Holyrood Park, will herald the start of Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018.
The torchlight procession had previously used a route from George IV Bridge to Calton Hill, via Princes Street.
Donald Wilson, the city council’s culture leader, said: “There should be an improvement in the event, is because in previous years people were still stuck on The Mound when the fireworks were going off on Calton Hill.
“The #ScotWord initiative has had young people engaged across Scotland. The word that make people the proudest of Scotland and Edinburgh will be announced on the night and be visible from the sky, so the event should be very innovative this year.
Underbelly, which is in charge of the festivities for the first time, ordered a major shake-up ahead of the 25th event to step up competition with rival cities like London, Hong Kong, Sydney and New York. The Skye-band Niteworks are creating a nine-minute soundtrack to accompany the longest ever midnight fireworks display above Edinburgh Castle.
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