Edinburgh's Princes St Gardens to get new concert venue

EDINBURGH is finally set to get a new concert arena after city leaders agreed to join forces with a property tycoon to replace its crumbling Princes Street Gardens venue.

Princes Street Gardens is getting a new concert venue. File picture: Tony Marsh
Princes Street Gardens is getting a new concert venue. File picture: Tony Marsh

City leaders are set to seek permission from the Scottish Parliament to create a replacement for the Ross Bandstand after Apex Hotels founder Norman Springford offered to bankroll the project.

The businessman, who has formed a taskforce to pursue the project, has won approval in principle from the council for his vision of an “iconic” new open-air venue for the city.

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The former owner of the Edinburgh Playhouse envisages the new arena, which could cost up to £25 milion, being flexible enough to host events for just a few hundred people up to major concerts with a capacity of at least 5000.

The council, has admitted the existing arena - which dates back to 1877 and was last overhauled in 1935 - is “no longer fit for purpose.” Outline plans for a replacement for the bandstand and an overhaul of West Princes Street Gardens have been drawn up by the two parties in recent months.

The council is considering a lease agreement for part of the gardens, which would allow Mr Springford’s team to draw up detailed designs. A charitable trust would be set up to deliver and run the venue, expected to take several years to clear planning hurdles and build.

Events would be held year-round in the new arena, which already hosts concerts during the Edinburgh International Festival and the city’s Hogmanay festival as facilities would be created to reduce the costs involved in staging concerts. Spin-off benefits are expected to include improvements to the landscaping of Princes Street Gardens, creating better access for visitors and event organisers, and a revamp of the Ross Fountain, which has also fallen into disrepair recently.

The council formed a taskforce over a possible new bandstand more than a decade after the cancellation of the Hogmanay concert when the temporary arena was damaged by bad weather. However the idea was shelved due to concerns over how it could be funded and potential legal hurdles. As well as being designated “common good land”, a bylaw introduced in 1991 to restrict future development in the city’s parks allows for “bandstands” to be created in Princes Street Gardens, but does not mention any other concert facilities.

A new council report reveals a private bill could take 18 months to be approved by MSPS and has no guarantee of success. However the council said it had a “shared ambition” with Mr Springford to turn his vision into reality.

Council leader Andrew Burns said: “Scores of famous acts have graced the Ross Bandstand stage and while it remains a key venue for the festival fireworks and Hogmanay concert it is more than 80 years old and is nearing the end of its useful life.

“It has been a long held ambition of the council to create a new facility as part of major renewal of the gardens but is not, in the current financial climate, a project we could undertake alone.

“We are extremely grateful to Mr Springford for his personal commitment to the project.

“Princes Street Gardens are a major source of pride in the city and it is important that we get any changes right. There are a lot of considerations, from the fact the area is common good land to the implications of building in public parks, so there is still much work to be done.”

Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place, said: “The Ross Bandstand has been a key asset in West Princes Street Gardens – one of the most visited public parks in Scotland, connecting the Old and New Town halves of a world heritage site.

“However, the bandstand’s condition has deteriorated over time and is no longer fit for purpose, although some interim maintenance works for health and safety purposes have recently been undertaken.

“With input from Mr Springford and an independent steering group he has formed, council officers are developing an outline proposal for improvements to the landscaping of and access to the gardens, the replacement of the Ross Bandstand, and options for the Ross Fountain restoration.

“This work is taking place on the basis that any eventual project would be externally funded.

“The bandstand is essential to the delivery of the annual festival fireworks concerts and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay. It would be a condition of any future development that those uses be accommodated in the new facilities.

“The new bandstand would be expected to provide superior contemporary facilities that would accommodate a wide range of events.”

Mr Springford said: “It would clearly be inappropriate to think about having any kind of large structure in the gardens. It will be an open-air venue again. It is also clear that if you are going to improve the bandstand then you have effectively got to improve the environment around it.

“While it has been a personal ambition to see redevelopment, the opportunity for this to become a reality arises from a real spirit of public/private co-operation.

“We are not looking for any money from the council. But if a charitable trust is to raise in the region of £25 million it will have to have a lease of the asset. But there is no intention to make any profit from this.”