Letter to The Quaich Project, from Old Town Community Council (OTCC), 15th October 2019.

Thank you for your emails of 23rd and 24th September (Appendix A, here and here) with respect to two of our tweets posted on 19th September (Appendix B, here).

Nominations for Edinburgh’s 45 Community Councils opened on 9th September and closed on 30th September. The newly elected Old Town Community Council met for the first time on Tuesday 8th October and we discussed the contents of your emails.

The tweets on 19th September, followed our email to you on 17th September (Appendix C, here). There, we said “just as it would be considered silly to propose HS2 without a business plan on how the end product was to be used, we too want to understand how the redeveloped West Princes Street Gardens might be used. Once we have sight of the Business Case (including paid-for events), we will then be in a better position to comment on the Stage 3 designs.”

We will start by addressing what you say about the two tweets, and end with some closing comments.

  1. We assume The Quaich Project is not just redesigning West Princes Street Gardens without any indication of how it might be used? OTCC first raised concerns about the lack of a business case with you – when you attended our meeting in March. Just a few days later, we repeated our concerns at the first meeting of The Quaich’s Stakeholder Forum. It is disappointing the City Council directly – and The Quaich Project by association – has allowed six months to pass before committing on 18th September, to the provision of “some key messages in time for our first public consultation in November”. It seems remiss at best – and dishonest at worst – for The Quaich Project to have continued planning for a project where the needs were not entirely known to all members of the Stakeholders Group and the public at large. As is standard practice for Quaich Project Stakeholder meetings, OTCC was not asked about our availability for the meeting held on 18th September. You have always given us just one date, one time and in effect told us to be there! It so happens, this was the first of the four Stakeholder meetings held so far, where OTCC was unable to attend. This was advised in our email of 17th September (Appendix 3). It is disappointing we had to – because of apparent inaction from The Quaich Project and/or City Council – reiterate our concerns yet again in that email. We wrote that the Community Council wanted sight of the ‘Why’ (the business case) before we would be best placed to comment on the ‘How’ (The Quaich Project plans). It is disappointing too, that OTCC has had to put so much effort into getting a response to such an important question – what does the business plan say? Communication is key and it is sad you did not advise us of developments at the meeting held on 18th September until the 23rd/24th, some 5/6 days after you were updated by the City Council at the Stakeholder meeting held on 18th September.
  2. You will see from the twitter thread https://twitter.com/brianjaffa/status/1174663034750603265?s=20 that our second tweet was in response to The Quaich’s :“As you are fully aware from attending our numerous stakeholder workshops, operations and management of the process, including the events, lies solely with [City of Edinburgh Council]. Any questions regarding events should be directed at them”. We note the choice of words is less eloquent than perhaps you might otherwise have chosen. While the wording in your email (Appendix A) with respect to OTCC’s second tweet is well crafted, there are considerable contradictions too. You start by saying OTCC’s tweet is untrue and unfair. Two sentences later, you rationalise why you have asked for the information not to be made publicly available. Continued incongruence on your part, will probably result in meaningful engagement becoming even more elusive than it already is. We have addressed our views on the business case in point 1 above.

It is not clear why The Quaich Project has put a price-tag of £25,000,000 on the redevelopment of West Princes Street Gardens, when the price-tag on the redevelopment of Saughton Park is said to have cost so much less.

Your Stakeholder Forum is not truly representative. Of the 22 or so people around the table, 18 have commercial, political and legal interests. They include The Quaich Project, Architects, City of Edinburgh Council and Planning Bodies. The forum needs to be downsized and much more representative of the many ‘Users’ interested in the sustainable future of West Princes Street Gardens and central Edinburgh.

We fully understand you did not need to include OTCC in your Stakeholder Group. Likewise, OTCC as the most local tier of elected representation for the West Princes Street Gardens area, did not need to be part of the Stakeholder Group either !

The Quaich Project stands to gain so much more from OTCC’s membership of the Stakeholder Group than can ever be reciprocated by you or your colleagues. We are acutely aware that having OTCC on board is of considerable political value to The Quaich Project, especially in this period before you go to public consultation, stage three of the planning process and high profile money raising initiatives. It seems remiss of The Quaich Project at best – and dishonest at worst – to have continued planning for a project where the needs are still not entirely known to all members of the Stakeholders Group and the public at large. Your actions are putting OTCC in an increasingly compromised position.

OTCC had such high hopes when the rebranded Quaich Project was launched. But seven months in, so much remains uncertain.

The remit of The Quaich Project’s continues to be unclear. From your albeit excellent website, the Project appears to be rebranding more and more of what is happening in West Princes Street Gardens. OTCC wants a clearer understanding in writing, of what exactly the Ross Development Trust is responsible for and what the City of Edinburgh Council’s responsibilities are. Where is this information available for the public to read?

Is the public consultation due to start next month, limited to the 2018 marketing drawings for the Ross Bandstand? Does the Project intend to use a third party to independently run the consultation and ensure objectivity? Or are the results of the consultation a fore-gone conclusion? We want a clear response to each of these questions, in writing.

Bearing in mind the trend towards prioritising pedestrians and cyclists in the city centre, how many days a year will the King’s Stables Road and othergates, be shut to the public, for the set-up, performance and dismantling of paid-for events in the Gardens? Where is this information available for the public to read today?

Based on reports in Saturday’s Scotsman newspaper, it sounds like Cllr Donald Wilson has chosen to ignore the results of last year’s public consultation on West Princes Street Gardens. This is just the latest chapter in a catalogue of decisions aimed at excluding residents from our free-to-use public facilities in central Edinburgh. These decisions are led by Councillors representing residents outside the City-Centre, and are exacerbating further distrust and unhappiness amongst our neighbours. These decisions are not even communicated directly to us. Instead, we inevitably hear about them from Brian Ferguson’s press “exclusives” published in The Scotsman.

The seeds of distrust and unhappiness were sown many years ago, when the then Head of the City of Edinburgh Council’s events team forced without consultation, a series of unacceptable events on public spaces in Grassmarket. This strategy has mushroomed in the intervening years. The World’s third largest ticketed event (The Fringe) is concentrated into just two square miles of Old Town throughout August. EdXmas takes-over East Princes Street Gardens from early-November to mid-January. Hogmanay descends on West Princes Street Gardens, Parliament Square, The Mound, Market Street and Bank Street. Film Edinburgh turns our streets into temporary sets for Hollywood blockbusters. West Princes Street Gardens is closed to non-paying residents during the Summer Fiesta (10 days), the Summers Sessions (5 weeks), Hogmanay (2 weeks), the Fly (1 week) and more. Residents’ parking spaces are removed for up to three months a year. Underbelly demands we wear wristbands to gain access to our homes! And the list goes on ….

Old Town Community Council strives for excellent working relationships with our Stakeholders. In return, we ask you and your colleagues to work much more constructively and congruently with us, the most local tier of elected representation for the geography of West Princes Street Gardens. This should help avoid the negativity and hostility you so fear.

We trust this feedback works for you. In the event it does not, then OTCC will be happy to withdraw from the Stakeholder Group. Your written response by Monday 21st October, will be much appreciated.

Kind Regards,

The Old Town Community Council.

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