Early-evening fireworks and a family-friendly concert will be staged in Edinburgh for the first time on Hogmanay as part of a major expansion of its winter festivals under new organisers.
They will continue for an extra three weeks until Burns Night for the first time as part a bid to raise the global profile of Edinburgh in the face of mounting competition.
A major new free outdoor event, which is expected to generate spectacular images of the city, will run from New Year’s Day to Burns Night on January 25.
The 25th Hogmanay festivities will get under way four hours earlier than previous years with a 45-minute music and fireworks show beneath Edinburgh Castle.
Pyrotechnics will be seen from across the city, while around 3500 ticket-holders will be admitted to the Ross Bandstand arena for the new “Bairns Afore” event, due to start at 5pm.
Fringe promoters Underbelly have vowed to “expand and enhance” the Hogmanay festival, including an overhaul of its torchlight procession on December 30 and a “reboot” of its street party, despite a significant funding cut for the event.
But they insist they will not hike ticket prices to pay for the expansion and say pop-up bars on Princes Street and St Andrew Square would be dismantled as normal in early January. Underbelly, who organise the annual Pride Festival in London, have also revealed that they want to turn the Edinburgh event into more of a “carnival”, claiming the city needed to step up efforts to compete with the likes of Sydney, Paris, London, New York and Dubai.
Directors Charlie Wood and Ed Bartlam, the two London impresarios who have been staging Fringe shows in Edinburgh for 17 years, said they were not content to maintain the “status quo” for Hogmanay in the face of the mounting challenges overseas.
Unveiling their first plans for Hogmanay festival ahead of an official launch next month, Mr Wood and Mr Bartlam said there was no question of the event being “diminished” and pledged that new sponsors were being brought in to help expand the event in their first year.
They also revealed that they were planning to use their involvement in around 10 other UK events to reduce the costs involved in staging the Hogmanay festival.
Mr Wood said: “We believe Hogmanay should not just be a three-day event.
“One of our ambitions is to extend the reach of Hogmanay into January a bit more. The new outdoor event will get people out and about around the city.
“We’re going to use the infrastructure that is already in place for the Concert in the Gardens for Bairns Afore, which will be specifically designed for families and young people, which will culminate in a proper, substantial fireworks display for five or six minutes.
“It will mean people will be able to go out with their kids and they can have a ‘midnight moment’ a lot earlier.
“The additional funding that we need this year is going to come from one or two different commercial partners.
“As we’re working across all these different festivals we’re in a unique position in Edinburgh in that we can spread our costs and overheads over different events.”
Mr Bartlam said: “January becomes a really dark, quiet month in Edinburgh after Hogmanay.
“We’re keen to explore having cultural entertainment to the city for a longer period of time after Hogmanay, which will be good for locals, tourists and businesses, for the city and Scotland.
“We’re not about to programme hundreds of events under the Hogmanay banner until January 25.
“We have a particular idea for this year that we feel deserves to have a longer life than those two or three days over Hogmanay.
“People will see when we unveil our plans in July that the Hogmanay event, far from being diminished, is going to be grown and expanded, both in terms of scale and quality. We can say that with total confidence. We’re not going to increase ticket prices.
“We have a real desire to keep them in line with what they’ve been.”
Underbelly won the right to stage the Hogmanay festival, which has been worth more than £40 million to the city’s economy, in March after ousting long-time producers Unique Events.
The firm had been involved with the event for all of its previous 24 years and lost out a year after long-time figurehead Pete Irvine had stood down as event director.
Days after the Hogmanay festival was named Scotland’s best cultural event, new directors Al Thomson and Penny Dougherty accused the city council – which awarded Underbelly a three-year contract with an option of another two years – of putting the “international status” of the event at risk by cutting its funding by around £500,000 and prioritising commercial benefits over quality and safety.
The two firms had joined forces to secure a joint contract to run the winter festivals in 2013, with Underbelly overhauling the Christmas festival and Unique remaining in charge of Hogmanay.
But a shake-up for this year saw the council insist that just one firm took charge of both events, with the new contract worth £813,000 a year.
Mr Wood added: “We have a huge amount of respect for everything that Pete Irvine and Unique Events did.
“It’s not about anything they did wrong, but when this festival first started in 1993 Edinburgh was one of the few cities doing it.
“Those thundering hooves have happened because every other city in the world has realised that they also have a new year and they can celebrate it.
“There is so much more competition now.
“Our plans will bring will be a refresh which will help sell Edinburgh and Scotland on the global stage.
“The thing that excites us isn’t about maintaining the status quo, it’s about doing something different that once again makes Edinburgh and Scotland the best.”