WHAT NEXT FOR WEST PRINCES ST GARDENS?

 12-WEEK CONSULTATION BEGINS

City of Edinburgh Council and the Ross Development Trust seek feedback from the public concerning plans to upgrade and ‘revitalise’ West Princes Street Gardens and improve accessibility.

Consultation will take place between now and 14 September, with a drop-in session scheduled for the Assembly Rooms from 2pm to 7pm on 18 July. There is also an online consultation here (of which, more below), and meetings with other stakeholders are still to be arranged.

This is a decent amount of time in which to organise proper consultation, for which the organisers should be applauded.

The results will be included in a report to the Council assessing public support (or lack of it) for new facilities and a different way of managing them. The report will also include recommendations for the RDT’s business case, and clarifiication of governance arrangements.

Sensitivities

Management of the Gardens’ new venues by a charitable Arm’s Length External Organisation is one of the trickier parts of the proposed arrangements. This ALEO would take care of the day-to-day running, and have responsibility for any contracts and service agreements. It would also choose and organise the programme of events in a new Ross Bandstand, visitor centre and revamped Blaes area. CEC would continue its parks and grounds-management role.

As reported at length in March (Breaking news, 21.3.18), potential investors want to involve an ALEO because they do not have confidence in a cash-strapped local authority continuing to manage these potential new assets to the necessary standard. 

Some sceptics – including Cliff Hague of the Cockburn Association  – are extremely cautious about any such dilution of public control over a publicly owned amenity. Others fear that commercial voices urging maximum use of the Gardens for events may soon drown out those who want to preserve the areas traditional prevailing calm (Breaking news, 21.3.17).

Such sensitivities explain the careful wording of a statement by Cllr Donald Wilson (Culture & Communities Convener) earlier this week. Introducing the 12-week consultation, he wrote: 

The gardens are an important public asset for all of Edinburgh to experience and it will remain in public ownership and under Council control, available for everybody to enjoy.

If approved the ALEO would be established to ensure this remains the case, while allowing the flexibility for the Ross Development Trust and other important stakeholders to raise the required investment for the future pavilion and other key areas of infrastructure. I want to know how these plans sit with the citizens of Edinburgh, what they see as priorities for them and their Gardens and we want people to play a part in this vision. 

Reading between the lines

Spurtle looked at the online consultation this morning. It includes an optimistic but reasonably informative and fair account of the project’s history and aspirations. It offers helpful explanations of related issues such as current building restrictions (see below).

We found the section on the number and type of events quite instructive. The words ‘At present’  may sound alarm bells for some: ‘At present there is no intention to increase or reduce the number of these larger events …’.

And this section on the composition of the ALEO’s trustees offers more detail than we remember having seen before.

But some questions appear loaded in favour of development over maintenance of the status quo. For example, in the options below, ‘Offer areas of tranquility’ suggests little patches of quiet; it does not explicitly represent an option for uninterrupted or predominant tranquility. ‘A place for enjoyment and relaxation’ is effectively a blank cheque which could include anything from croquet and doves cooing, to ZZ Top and professional motorcross racing.

Other questions are clumsily assembled. Here, for example, elements would be marked identically as most important by those vehemently opposed and those passionately in favour.

What next?

Obviously, there is much to like about genuinely improving the Gardens. And all things considered, the online pages  are a useful and informative read on the subject. But nevertheless they have an institutional bias, a presumption in favour of change which nudges the participant along particular lines of thought and narrowly phrased assent. 

This correspondent will seek alternative opportunities – via letters to officials, elected representatives and community councils – to make more nuanced and qualified expressions of support and concern.—AM 

Got a view? Tell us at spurtle@hotmail.co.uk and @theSpurtle and Facebook

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