Submitted by Editor on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 15:27


At yesterday’s virtual meeting of the Policy & Sustainability Committee, councillors considered a report proposing the deferral of this August’s proposed Summer Sessions in West Princes Street Gardens.

They agreed to postpone the nine concerts until summer 2021 after Karl Chapman­ – the Council’s Cultural Venues Manager – had asserted that such measures were in line with the actions of other event-organisers around the country.

Chapman said that in responding to Covid-19 restrictions, they sought to maintain confidence and liquidity in the entertainment market. Any future events would be run in full compliance with safety requirements.

Cllr Staniforth proposed looking for suitable alternative venues elsewhere in Edinburgh, whether or not Council-owned. Chapman said that audiences and organisers would need to know about any such change as soon as possible, and Cllr McVey said it would be easier to cancel the events than reconvene them elsewhere in 2021.

Staniforth was keen to maintain live music in a post-coronavirus world, but also wanted to keep parks as publicly accessible as possible.

Cllr Whyte supported Staniforth’s proposal, but also voiced doubts about whether mass gatherings of 6,000 would be possible even in a year’s time. Socially distanced events involving fewer audience members might not be financially viable.

Whyte said the city centre was already busy in the summer, making the need for a public park all the more pressing. He said the events’ requirement for disfiguring barriers on safety grounds showed that West Princes Street Garden was not an appropriate venue.

Cllr Day sought, and received, confirmation from Chapman that there had been ‘no issues’ with last year’s Summer Sessions. Chapman asserted that the events had been well attended and well received by the emergency services. He did not mention how poorly they had gone down with numerous residents’ organisations and the heritage lobby.

Cllr Day made clear that he opposed holding the events anywhere other than in a Council-owned venue. He could not support the loss of revenue that would result from using a private space.

Local support

Cllr McVey reiterated how popular the events had been with ‘locals’ from Edinburgh, the Lothians, and elsewhere in Scotland.

He said that – until Covid-19 made postponement unavoidable –  Council plans to continue with the Summer Sessions were already well advanced. It made no sense to cancel them at this stage.

The original flashpoint around the event, said McVey, had been the barriers blocking views of the concerts from Princes Street. These were a necessary precaution to protect non-paying crowds on Princes Street from endangering themselves in road traffic.

Reducing the size of 10-ft barriers last year had resulted in a more ‘respectful and agile’ solution, he asserted

McVey said Cllr Whyte’s point about the mismatch of public safety requirements and heritage concerns was not a strong enough reason to move the Summer Sessions elsewhere. He pointed to Glasgow Council’s handling of events in Glasgow Green.

Cllr Gardiner referred to a submission to the P&S Committee from the Cockburn Association’s director Terry Levinthal. He made clear that the Council’s Planning Department was entirely independent, and would consider any planning issues around the Summer Sessions with complete fairness.

When the Committee moved to a vote, the original Motion to defer the events without looking for alternative venues was carried by 10 votes to 7.

Recapitulating capitulation

This correspondent listened carefully to the arguments, and concluded that:

  • Considering whether alternative venues are available was an entirely reasonable suggestion which councillors have unreasonably dismissed out of hand.
  • Coalition members don’t understand or don’t care that an event’s popularity does not necessarily mean its venue is appropriate. Not acknowledging that point opens the floodgates to all manner of intrusions upon civic space in future.
  • Cllr McVey’s understanding of ‘local’ is almost as ‘agile’ as his understanding of ‘appropriate’.
  • The fact that Glasgow Council boards off sections of Glasgow Green during events does not justify Edinburgh doing the same in West Princes Street Gardens. The two cities and locations are entirely different.
  • Revenue-driven motives for holding the Summer Sessions clearly outweigh other considerations for this Coalition Administration.
  • Given this, arguments in favour of parks as green refuges rather than potential entertainment spaces will continue to fall on deaf (deafened?) ears.
  • It was a curious anomaly that Cllr Macinness, who, in her role as Transport & Environment Convener, has recently won admirers and critics for her radical, forward-looking solutions to pandemic-related new realities, sat throughout this meeting without saying a word. Her silence struck this observer as completely incoherent.

The influential Policy & Sustainability Committee’s decision strikes some as pragmatic more than principled. It fills this observer with disappointment. It gives little reason to feel confident in the Administration’s ability to think sufficiently and creatively about an Edinburgh transformed by Covid-19.

Ploughing on in the same old way – out of timidity, convenience, myopia – won’t  serve. Yesterday's mass events and mass tourism are options we can no longer afford.—AM