Edinburgh book festival turning Charlotte Square into ‘quaking bog’

The future of the Edinburgh International Book Festival is under increasing threat due to the “negative” environmental impact of the event on one of the city’s most historic gardens, it has emerged.

Charlotte Square is now looking worse than ever in festival’s wake. Picture: Neil Hanna
Charlotte Square is now looking worse than ever in festival’s wake. Picture: Neil Hanna

Those behind the festival say they are “very concerned” about the gradually declining condition of the 200-year-old Charlotte Square Garden, in the New Town, due to the combined effect of increasing visitor numbers and poor weather. They admit it has been “impossible” to carry out any reinstatement work since October due to repeated problems with the privately-owned park being waterlogged.

Organisers say the growing difficulties in bringing the garden, which attracted a record 265,000 visitors in August, back up to scratch “cannot continue indefinitely”.

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The festival, which expanded into George Street three years ago, has admitted “long-term investment” is needed to ensure that it remains in the garden, where it has been staged since it began in 1983.

At the height of Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019

The garden has been compared to a “quaking bog” by critics due to its existing condition.

A festival spokeswoman said: “We’re very concerned about the impact we have on this magnificent and historically important garden square ... Weather conditions in 2019 were particularly challenging. Between July and December, 258mm of rain fell upon Edinburgh compared to 91mm in 2018 and 52mm in 2017. Conditions have not improved since Christmas. As a consequence, reinstating the garden has proved impossible.”

The festival has been in talks for years with the Charlotte Square Proprietors Association over the declining condition of the garden, but has not reached agreement on how the garden could have new infrastructure installed.

A spokesman for the Charlotte Square Proprietors Association said: “Strenuous efforts are being made to ensure that a means of avoiding this problem in the future is found.”

Cliff Hague, chair of the Cockburn Association heritage body, said: “It is time to put major events indoors or on hard standing areas, and to space festivals to smooth out the peak.”