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The Edinburgh Reporter interviewed Edinburgh Council Leader Cllr Cammy Day last month as elected representatives tackled setting the city’s next budget (‘Watching the pennies’, 1.2.24).

Day made no bones about the potential difficulties of the task, but there was at least one glimmer of light on his horizon: the Scottish Govt’s determination to allow local authorities to raise a ‘Visitor Levy’ on tourist accommodation spend.

This law offers the potential to raise an extra £25m–£37m each year, which Administration voices have suggested could be used to mitigate the worst effects of mass tourism in the capital and improve the experience of being here for visitors and locals alike.

Cllr Day gave one specific example. ‘Pilrig Park has been used for festival performances in the past,’ he said. ‘We could use some of the money to upgrade that park to be one of our premier parks.

‘It could then be a potential venue for future festivals, but also an even better park for people to enjoy all year round. There’s a win for the growth of responsible tourism and there’s a win for the local community.’

Pilrig Park
Range of views

Leith is the most densely populated place in Scotland, and green spaces for that population are greatly prized. Over the last few weeks, Spurtle has spoken to dozens of locals about Cllr Day’s possible ‘festivalisation’ of Pilrig Park, and most are highly sceptical about sharing it with seasonal visitors and commercial enterprises.

Below we present a range of views.

‘Why should we give up our park for weeks over the summer?’ one dog walker responded. ‘That’s the time when most people around here want to use it.

‘And how long would it take to get it back to normal afterwards? You’ve seen the mess they make of Princes Street Gardens every year.’

Her partner added, ‘There’s enough pressure on this place already. There’s not enough green to go round. And what about all the people who live around the park? How are they going to feel about extra noise and traffic?’

Others are more optimistic. We spoke to two young mothers visiting the swings with their children. One said, ‘If it means the Council spend more money on looking after this equipment and updating it, that would be a bonus.’

‘And a clean toilet here with an attendant would be brilliant,’ her friend added. ‘All these bushes are full of shite and broken bottles and needles and that. You can’t let the bairns go in. We need more Council people tidying up, keeping it safe.’

A Pilrig resident who has enjoyed the park for over 60 years commented, ‘It’s not perfect here, but it’s all we’ve got and we want to keep it. The Council doesn’t give a **** about Leith. All they care about is getting more tourists in. What about the real people who live here all year round?’

Man with dog and mud
Soft ground, no firm position

One local activist rolled his eyes and sighed when Spurtle mentioned Cllr Day’s idea. 'We’ve been through all this before. What the Council forgets is that the ground here is very soft and prone to flooding. It can’t take heavy lorries, heavy stages, heavy footfall, or heavy rain for that matter. They’ve tried it before with the Mela and it just turns into a mud bath. What are they going to do – concrete over it?’

Spurtle approached the Friends of Pilrig Park, a constituted group of volunteers who arrange litter-picking, planting and occasional pruning in the area. They discussed the issue at a meeting in early March but, says chairperson Caroline Pretty, failed to reach a ‘particularly firm position’ and so declined to comment.

We expect opinion on these questions to become clearer if and when politicians come forward with more detailed proposals. Until then, there’s a chill wind blowing down Balfour Street.


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