Heritage body wants Edinburgh Festival shows staged at sports stadia and shopping centre car parks

Edinburgh Festival shows and events should be staged in the shopping centre car parks and the grounds of sports stadia from this summer, the city’s long-running heritage watchdog has suggested.

The Cockburn Association has called for the “de-concentration and dispersal” of pop-up venues to ease pressure on the city centre as well as protect public parks and other green spaces.

It wants “hard-standing sites” outwith the city centre to be deployed for the festivals as part of efforts to reduce their environmental impact.

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He said the moves could address concerns from some communities that the festivals “pass them by” while also tackling complaints from city centre residents that were treated “a second best” to festivalgoers and visitors to the city.

The Tynecastle Park area has been touted as a possible new Edinburgh Festival venue.
The Tynecastle Park area has been touted as a possible new Edinburgh Festival venue.

Writing in The Scotsman today, Cockburn Association chair Cliff Hague said the 2021 season should be used to “refocus and experiment” with the festivals and ensure that they “take a decisive step to going green” this summer.

Mr Hague said: “The pandemic has shown just how valuable our parks and green spaces are for our collective mental and physical well-being.

“It makes no sense to restrict access to our public open spaces for weeks on end to facilitate commercial events.

"Is it really necessary to let a private company close off much of West Princes Street Gardens during August for the Summer Sessions concert series, just when public access is at its peak?

The Cockburn Association is calling for the 'de-concentration and dispersal' of Edinburgh Festival shows and events to ease pressure on the city centre. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell

"In many cases, these have inflicted serious damage to cherished public parks, making them unavailable for use for substantial periods as reparative works are undertaken. Re-turfing is a sticking plaster not a cure for the destruction imposed.

"A strategic approach to the use of civic spaces is required. Hard standing areas more suited to large events need to be prioritised. This could contribute to a different geography for the festivals.

"Could festivals and major events in 2021 be staged in car parks at shopping centres or beside Murrayfield or Tynecastle?”

The proposals have been put forward by Mr Hague weeks after the Cockburn Association was accused by the new chief executive of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo of campaigning to turn Edinburgh into “an empty medieval theme park.”

Major General Buster Howes said at the time: “The naysayers of the Cockburn Association persist in thinking that an empty city is the best city.”

Mr Hague insisted the Cockburn Association “wants to get the festivals back” but insisted they had to be “safe, inclusive and environmentally sustainable” when they returned.

Mr Hague added: “We all have a duty to the city. We are its temporary stewards.

“We need to care for its buildings and spaces, while ensuring that all can enjoy the buzz and culture it can offer. Edinburgh is more than just a space to absorb as many visitors as possible.

"It is more than a backdrop or a stage-set to add a premium to events and performances. We should be nourishing creativity and culture across the city as a whole.

"That means de-concentration and dispersal of festival events, in consultation with community organisations on what conditions events will be staged. Involve schools and aspiring performers. Go local and be inclusive by spreading the excitement more widely than ever before.

"The council aspires to create the 20 minute neighbourhoods in which a wide range of services

are accessible close to people’s homes.

"Why can’t the festivals blaze a trail this year in showing how this could work for culture and entertainment?”

Edinburgh’s festivals recently lodged evidence with the Scottish Parliament stressed that they wanted Edinburgh to be repositioned as not only as a safe and well managed festival city, but also as a festival city whose innovative programming shows that we take our responsibilities seriously to our people, our place and our planet.”

An official report for Holyrood’s culture committee stated: “As Edinburgh and its festivals gradually return from their enforced absence, we will also emerge into a world shaken from its old habits.

"Creatives, residents and visitors will all display differing levels of caution, depending on such factors as age and health, in reconnecting with old behaviours they had taken for granted.

"Many will not want to return to how things were, particularly with regard to matters of environmental and social concern.

"They will be seeking reassurance that our festivals have grasped concerns that pre-dated the pandemic and have taken the opportunity of enforced closure to re-set the dial on the nature of live events in our festival city.”

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