Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Underbelly get green light for 'Circus Hub' venue on the Meadows

Edinburgh Festival Fringe promoters Underbelly have been given the green light to revive their big top circus venue – despite more than 300 objections lodged in the wake of a social media campaign against its return.

Councillors have approved a three-week run of “world-class” shows at the Circus Hub site on the Meadows after being told that the venue was part of a plan to help Edinburgh’s festivals recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

However the city’s planning committee has signalled that it would “prefer” to see Fringe venues relocated away from green-space sites in future years.

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The venue, proposed to host five shows a day, has been targeted by the city’s longest-running heritage group, the Cockburn Association, over claims that it would effectively “partially privatise” part of the Meadows.

Social media posts encouraged supporters to lodge objections to the Circus Hub’s “fenced off compound," which was described it as an exclusive “hospitality venue” and “commercial event.”

There 316 objections, on the grounds of possible long-term damage to the Meadows, the impact on trees, noise disruption, and plans to sell food and drink at the venue.

Other concerns ruled “non-material” included concerns that the venue would impact on Covid rates, would fall foul of legislation banning new buildings on the Meadows, and would effectively create a private development.

Underbelly created the Circus Hub venue for the Meadows in 2015 after the use of part of the park for the Fringe was put out to tender.

The Circus Hub has been a popular Fringe venue on the Meadows since 2015.The Circus Hub has been a popular Fringe venue on the Meadows since 2015.
The Circus Hub has been a popular Fringe venue on the Meadows since 2015.

Underbelly was asked to submit a planning application for the first time for the Circus Hub under temporary policies to help the festivals recover by accommodating more outdoor sites.

Its plans stated: “Circus Hub will feature a world class circus performance programme which will ensure that big-scale live shows are placed back at the heart of the festival.”

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A report for the planning committee stated: “The majority of the letters of representation have raised issue with the loss of open space and the limitations placed on access across the site of the proposed Circus Hub.

“A balanced decision has to be taken on whether the loss of the use of the open space for a period of just over a month outweighs the public use of the site.

“The area proposed occupies a central part of the Meadows and will restrict community access within this part. However, the majority of the Meadows will remain for community access.

“The scheme has been designed as an open air event in a direct response to the pandemic. It is considered that these are exceptional times and the Fringe requires support.”

Neil Gardiner, convener of the planning committee, said the council wanted to see the Meadows fully restored after the Fringe “as soon as practically possible and within a maximum of three months.”

He added: “It’s been an exceptional year, in a negative sense, for the city and the country.

"We can compromise this year, but the preference would in the longer-term would be for events like this to be held in hard-standing areas and not public parks.

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"We do need to have a festival, we do need to let our citizens ]enjoy culture and and on occasion we do need to make compromises. I think we have got an effective balance here.”

Underbelly declined to comment on the decision.

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