Heritage body plans Festival of Edinburgh as alternative to events 'exploiting' the city

A campaign group which is trying to curb the "festivalisation" of Edinburgh has unveiled plans to stage its own festival.

A new Festival of Edinburgh is planned to be launched to celebrate 'what makes the city special.' Picture: Kenny Lam
A new Festival of Edinburgh is planned to be launched to celebrate 'what makes the city special.' Picture: Kenny Lam

The Cockburn Association wants to launch a "Festival of Edinburgh" to celebrate the city's historic landscape, its centuries of built environment and what makes the various neighbourhoods and communities of the city special.

It has suggested the event as an alternative to long-running festivals that it claims treat Edinburgh as a “sponge to absorb events that could take place anywhere” and are dominated by “a group of self-interested parties perpetuate their own agendas.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It wants a rethink of how festivals are supported by the city council and tourism bodies, claiming they are increasingly “driven by commercial targets and a culture of everlasting growth.”

The group, which dates back to 1875, said it would be holding an online summit next month to share its ideas for a “more inclusive” festival which would fit in with the city’s ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The Cockburn has previously called for a clampdown on events being allowed to take over public spaces in the city and also wants the city’s festivals to be spread out, geographically and across the calendar in future.

It has led the criticism of the impact of Edinburgh’s winter festivals on Princes Street Gardens in recent years, called for action to curb levels of overcrowding on the streets during the summer festivals and raised concerns about a planned redevelopment of the Ross Bandstand.

Cockburn Association chair Cliff Hague said the new festival would build on the success of its annual ‘Doors Open Day’ event, which allows people to explore historic buildings and landmarks across the city, although he admitted financial help would be needed to get the idea off the ground.

Mr Hague, who proposed the new festival in an online lecture this week, said: “We believe the city could benefit if the festivals, and tourism generally, were inspired by and celebrated the qualities of Edinburgh, rather than treating the city as sponge to absorb events that could take place anywhere.

"Authenticity is a valuable asset and recent experience suggests Edinburgh risks squandering it.

“While we recognise that putting on major events requires responsible budgeting, the festivals should be intrinsic to the place rather than driven by commercial targets and a culture of everlasting growth.

"We’re not claiming to have a monopoly on ideas about how the festivals should develop, but we’re saying we need to break out from the pattern where a group of self-interested parties perpetuate their own agendas.

“Concerns raised by us in recent years about festivalisation, and the disregard of its impacts on the city and on residents, have clearly struck a chord with many citizens. A much more inclusive discussion is long overdue.

"The interpretation and curation of the city’s history and heritage has been poorly catered for, and even demeaned by events like the Summer Sessions and Edinburgh Christmas, which have damaged civic assets like Princes Street Gardens.

“We’d like to share ideas and explore what practical steps might be possible to better align Edinburgh's festival offer to its declared commitments to be carbon neutral by 2030 and to become more inclusive. We’ll hold an online public summit in January to garner experience and promote creative thinking about the future.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.