Heritage group demands ban on all-ticket events at historic concert venue in Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s long-running heritage watchdog has demanded a ban on ticketed events being staged in its historic open-air concert venue.

The Cockburn Association has declared war on “private” and “exclusive” events being staged in West Princes Street Gardens, even though it has hosted open-air concerts since at least 1877, the year after they opened to the public.

The group says the enforced shutdown of events has allowed it to “reassess” the importance of the open spaces for the health and wellbeing of its residence and visitors.

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The Cockburn Association, which has warned the city council’s efforts to help events and festivals recover are a threat to Edinburgh’s world heritage status, tried to block the return of a dance music festival to the gardens this week.

Fly Open Air, which is expected to attract 4,000 festival goers a day, is the first major event to be staged at the Ross Bandstand for nearly two years and has completely sold out in advance.

The Cockburn Association wants the “green-ness and tranquillity” of the park, which opened to the public in 1876, to be prioritised over the hosting of events in future, claiming they were “not consistent” with its key values.

Its submission to the council states: “The Cockburn, through its long history, has campaigned to protect Edinburgh’s parks and open spaces, including West Princes Street Gardens.

“We appreciate the desire of the hospitality and events sectors to get back into operation following the enforced closure due to Covid.

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"However, Covid has allowed us to reassess the importance of open spaces to the health and well-being of the city for its residents and visitors.

"Our view is that West Princes Street Gardens is a public park, not a private events space.

"We hold no position on the type of activities or events that are or are not appropriate.

"The issue is the impact on a public civic space in terms of accessibility, suitability and well-being in the widest sense.

Around 4000 music fans are expected to attend each day of the Fly Open Air festival in Princes Street Gardens this weekend.

“Ultimately, Fly Open Air is a private event that has at its core the need to offer exclusivity to ticket purchasers at the expense of public access and enjoyment.”

However, one city centre business leader, who asked not to be named, said: “The Ross Bandstand is a public space and should be used for the enjoyment of the people of Edinburgh. Fly Open Air is a great chance for people to enjoy themselves in the open air this weekend.

“The Cockburn Association does not seem to want anything to happen there unless it is low impact and sedate, with very few people at it. They are being party-poopers with this stance.”

Amy McNeese-Mechan, the council’s culture vice-convener, said: “We’ve been working closely with the organisers and other partners, including the police and ambulance service, to ensure Fly Open Air can go ahead safely and in line with the latest Scottish Government guidance and I want to pay tribute to the ‘Team Edinburgh’ approach that’s allowed this to happen.

“This has very much been our approach to supporting the ongoing recovery of our festivals and events sector and, as we’ve seen from the hugely successful return of the festivals this summer, careful planning and, where necessary, compromise can pay real dividends. I sincerely hope this will become a template for future years.”

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