West Princes Street Gardens (WPSG) was in the news for much of 2019 and 2020. This page is a summary of our engagement with The Quaich Project and the City Council, ongoing debates about paid-for events for up to 14,000 attendees and disagreements around the percentage of time that WPSG was 100% available to the public for their enjoyment.
This story starts with this video from Edinburgh Spotlight. The Edinburgh to Glasgow rail tracks slices West Princes Street Gardens in two. Edinburgh Spotlight’s video was filmed shortly before the West Prices Street Gardens south of the rail tracks were shut to the public. It has remained closed ever since.
You would think that defining an event would be easy. We did too! Some say one event is a series of performances on one day. Others say one event is a series of performances that take place on up to ten different days. Over three weeks. This is how the discussion unfolded.
So we asked the manager of the Ross Bandstand. He manages Usher Hall, Assembly Rooms and Church Hill Theatre too.
We asked how many days a year would WPSG not be fully available to the public in 2019. He answered a different question … the percentage of time that the gates of WPSG would be open (excluding King’s Stables Road).
Something didn’t seem quite right. We did our own analysis. It shows that WPSG was up to 90% unavailable to the public for 24.5 times more than the 70 hours quoted by the manager of the Ross Bandstand.
We know this from our analysis of the documentation (copies below) completed by the organisers of all paid-for events at WPSG in 2019. This excludes Underbelly and more of that later.
The Licensing Department shared all this documentation with us before the Licensing Committee decides to give the go ahead for events taking place at WPSG. But we have seen no evidence of an Underbelly application to the Licensing Committee, to stage Hogmanay 2019.
That documentation has substantial weight on what the Licensing Committee decides to do.
Based on the documentation we have seen (and copied below), the total number of days when up to 90% of WPSG was closed to the public in 2019 :
- Summer Fiesta (4 days)
- Summer Sessions (23 days)
- Fly Open Air (6 days)
- Diwali (11 days)
- Oktoberfest (7 days)
- Hogmanay (21 days)
Total : 72 days … not 70 hours.
Underbelly closed 90% of WPSG for 21 days, from 15th December 2019 (see later tweets), until they had fully derigged and moved out on 5th January 2020. In other words, WPSG was not fully available to the public, for 21 days.
Edinburgh Summer Fiesta was organised by Bounded Productions Ltd.
The incorrect 70 hours quoted by The City of Edinburgh Council, continued to be repeated by some Councillors, promoters, reporters and Edinburgh Music Lovers too. As shown in the screenshots above, WPSG was up to 90% closed to the public for 24.5 times more than the 70 hours quoted by Ross Bandstand manager in June 2019.
Old Town is a residential area and noise was discussed at length.
Crowding was especially problematic on Princes Street, the one street where most of Edinburgh’s local buses criss-cross through. The crowding was exacerbated by the gates opening for paid-for events in WPSG, during the evening rush-hour period. The introduction of temporary screens (as shown in the next tweet) just seemed to make things worse.
So while the gates to WPSG were open for most of the time outside events, the Gardens were far from fully accessible, as shown in the following tweets …
While it was not intentional, the City of Edinburgh Council did not make it easy for OTCC to give our views on FLY Open Air. First we were asked to give our views to the Licensing Committee, then we were told to speak with the Parks Consultation. In the meantime,, the decision was taken by the Licensing Committee.
FLY Open Air’s Tom Ketley tweeted his views.
The Quaich Project had been engaging for about 18 months. But their proposals were still evolving.
Brian Ferguson summarised where WPSG seemed to be at.
We heard there were ‘benefits’, although we were never shown what those benefits looked like.
Together with the community councils of New Town and Broughton, Tollcross and West End; and The Cockburn Association, we produced a joint statement on The Quaich Project and WPSG.
Hogmanay was billed as one event. Although as mentioned above, most of WPSG was shut to the public for 21 days, from 15th December to 5th January.
It was getting closer to two years since we started engaging with The Quaich Project. But we were still unclear as to what the maximum number of attendees would be, in the redeveloped WPSG.
Research undertaken by The Quaich Project, concluded that arts and public performances in West Princes Street Gardens was what people wanted to see … least … of, in WPSG.
Questions were being asked about how The Quaich Project would raise funds to redevelop WPSG..
Meanwhile it was time to backtrack to Saturday 31st August 2019. This was the final Saturday of the festivals. The Fringe, International Festival, Tattoo, Hibernians, Murrayfield and other big organisers, ran big events on the last Saturday in August 2019? Were they responsible for the excessive crowds on the streets of Old Town? Apparently not. It was ScotRail (?)
We value our engagements with Edinburgh Music Lovers.
Then there were murmurings that the replacement Ross Bandstand proposed by The Quaich Project, would itself be temporarily replaced (hidden) during paid-for events.
WPSG experiencing a summer free of paid-for events. Do the Gardens need to be redeveloped?
Aspiration versus reality.
Charter for Edinburgh. Sounds like a wonderful idea. Hoping all parties can find a way of take this forward. Together.