Coronavirus in Scotland: Edinburgh councillors to hear plans for Christmas 2021 by controversial organisers Underbelly

Plans for Edinburgh’s future Christmas markets will go before a council planning committee, as organisers Underbelly look to bounce back from 2019’s controversial festive events.

Edinburgh City Council was criticised for refusing to terminate an £800,000 contact with the London-based firm, despite a get-out clause in the contract regarding events damaging the council’s reputation.

This was despite a string of events that were condemned by Edinburgh residents, such as failing to secure planning permission for an expanded Christmas market last year and failing to protect Princes Street Gardens from damage, which left parts of the area restricted for months.

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There were rows over the removal of the city’s Norwegian Christmas tree and a nativity scene from The Mound to make way for a giant screen at Hogmanay.

Edinburgh's Christmas, Princes street gardens, German Market

Christmas market 2019
Edinburgh's Christmas, Princes street gardens, German Market Christmas market 2019

Furthermore, there was controversy after Underbelly was handed a two-year extension to its contract without the involvement of councillors.

The market will not go ahead this year due to coronavirus so Edinburgh City Council and the organisers are looking to Christmas 2021.

There will be no stalls in East Princes Street Gardens, which traditionally hosted the market, but the Big Wheel and Star Flyer attractions will be located near the Scott Monument, along with two box offices and toilets.

The entrance will be via The Mound, which will have 27 stalls. Another 18 stalls will be sited in George Street, along with the ice rink, which was ousted from St Andrew Square last year.

Castle Street will have a box office and toilet facilities, along with 12 stalls, and in Old Town, the High Street will have 14 stalls and the Christmas tree.

The planning applications, which consider the impact on neighbouring listed buildings, will go before a development management committee meeting on Wednesday, November 11.

Referring to proposed events at East Princes Street Gardens and The Mound, one report states: “The proposal would harm the setting of neighbouring listed buildings for the temporary period of time in which the development would exist on site.”

Despite this, the reports conclude: “Notwithstanding, it is considered that there are significant economic and cultural benefits to the city resulting from the Christmas market, which arise principally because of it being located within the city centre where high footfall land uses are encouraged.

“On balance, these benefits, which are a considerable material consideration, outweigh the short-term adverse impact that the proposal will have on the setting of neighbouring listed buildings and provide reasoned justification for granting planning permission for the proposed development on the site.”

The Cockburn Association has previously said the gardens are not appropriate for the Big Wheel and Star Flyer.

According to Underbelly, 942,724 unique visitors attended the city’s Christmas attractions in East Princes Street Gardens last year, with 648,397 tickets sold for the various attractions.

Furthermore, 34% of attendees were from the Lothians (320,526 unique visitors) and 196,656 discounted tickets were sold to EH postcode residents.

A total of 67% of residents said Edinburgh’s Christmas was their only or main reason for coming to the city centre, while 68% of visitors said the same.

And in 2017, London-based firm BOP Consulting reported the economic benefit to Edinburgh’s was £113.2m.

A planning statement on behalf of Underbelly by Dublin Street-based consultants Turley, reads: “The design takes account of the Covid-19 pandemic, incorporating social distancing.”

Joseph Anderson for Local Democracy Reporting Service

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