NTBCC’s response to proposal for ‘Summer Sessions August 2020’ in West Princes Street Gardens 

This response has been submitted to CEC. 

NEW TOWN & BROUGHTON COMMUNITY COUNCIL 

Response to proposal for: 

‘Summer Sessions August 2020’ in West Princes Street Gardens 

Between Friday 31st July & Monday 24th August 2020 

Thank you for notifying the New Town and Broughton Community Council (NTBCC) on this proposal and the subsequent update reflecting a minor reduction in the proposed concerts (from 10 to 9) to be held during this period. 

For clarity, the New Town & Broughton Community Council is unsure whether this is actually a consultation or rather, just a notification for these events, given the recent discussion at the Culture & Communities Committee where the ‘Festivals & Events Core Programme for 2020/21’ was considered. As we understand, approval was given, consistent with officer’s recommendations to ‘continue the Edinburgh Summer Sessions programme in West Princes Street Gardens for 2020 at the same level as 2019, being nine concerts’. 

However, notwithstanding the above, please find below comments relating to this based on the information provided by Parks & Greenspaces in emails dated 7th February & 11th February. 

Consultation Process – Information Available / Provided

NTBCC would wish to highlight that the attachment as presented in the initial email on 7th February (‘Event Information’) contained some details as to the proposal for the 2020 Summer Sessions but many of the key arrangements were not available. The ‘Event Information’ stated that ‘Site plans and event space layout, risk assessments and the event management plan will be developed as discussions progress between the organisers, safety advisory group and various event stakeholders.’ 

Many of the issues highlighted by residents of the New Town (but not all) regarding the 2019 series of Summer Session concerts were related to these aspects. Key concerns raised for previous events were related to the extended footprint of the required event area (outwith the current Ross Bandstand) and the resulting impact on availability and accessibility of the gardens during this extended period as well as the initial arrangements (& hastily revised) amended facilities, deemed necessary by Edinburgh Council from a public safety standpoint to screen the performance areas from Princes Street. 

It is therefore difficult to provide detailed comments on this proposal given that several key aspects that are a concern for residents within the community council area relate to this. 

We are also aware that advertising for these concerts and tickets for the majority of the proposed sessions are already on sale – leading NTBCC to again question whether the staging of these events is in fact a fait accompli ? 

It would appear that, subject to DF Concerts meeting its licensing and public safety obligations, that the 2020 Edinburgh Summer Sessions are to be progressed (Ref : Culture & Communities Committee 28 January (point 4.5.16)). 

It is worth stating that it is recognised and acknowledged amongst some NTBCC members and residents that many enjoy concerts such as these. Hosting concerts such as proposed of appropriate scale is part of Edinburgh’s offering to both residents and visitors. NTBCC understand that the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle provided by West Princes Street Gardens is seen as attractive to promotors, performers and perhaps audiences for events such as these. Clearly, Edinburgh has much to offer but we would question whether events such as these should be exclusively focussed on the city centre or should the series of concerts be spread more widely across Edinburgh ? 

The key questions to be addressed are the proposed scale, impact and perhaps timing of events such as proposed. 

Parks Manifesto (June 2014) 

Whilst we are supportive of the proposed merging of the existing (Edinburgh) Parks Events Manifesto (EPEM) with the Public Spaces Protocol (PSP), this is still being developed and hence we would reference the ‘Edinburgh Parks & Events Manifesto’ (2014) for guidance. 

It states firstly under ‘Right Time, Right Place’ that ‘just as a venue must fit an event so an event must fit with the venue.’ NTBCC agree. 

The Manifesto uses eight key principles which aim to ensure that both landscape quality and event intensity needs are met but in terms of West Princes Street Gardens, the area within the Ross Bandstand enclosure is not included – being outwith Parks & Greenspaces responsibility, as we understand it, and hence it’s not clear as to the full applicability of the Manifesto for these events.. 

However, the recent report to the Culture & Communities Committee on 28 January 2020 (Development of a Public Spaces Management Plan) stated that “Parks, public spaces and our streets are critically important for supporting residents and businesses, as well as providing public health, social, economic and environmental benefits. The use of these spaces for events must not undermine this primary purpose.”  NTBCC agree with this position statement. 

Notwithstanding concerns regarding the applicability of the Manifesto – we would highlight the following. 

Principle 1 : CONTROL THE TOTAL NUMBER OF DAYS FOR AN EVENT ON ANY SITE 

The EPEM (2014) states “Events requiring use of infrastructure and the lawns would be restricted to five days maximum.” This event extends well beyond that (25 days incl. set-up / de-rig) & given the maximum attendance, requires use of the park infrastructure & lawns (as being outwith the Ross Bandstand area) – as such – it appears that this is contrary to Principle 1. 

Principle 3 : CONTROL THE TOTAL NUMBER OF “LARGE” EVENTS ON A PARTICULAR SITE PER YEAR 

Proposal is essentially for a series of 9 events as part of the ‘Summer Sessions’ – each of which meet the definition of a large event, being significantly in excess of the stated maximum capacity of the Ross Bandstand of 2,500 seated (to 3,000 standing). The listed requirements state that a ‘Maximum of four (events) outwith the dedicated events space.’  NTBCC believe that it is disingenuous to define ‘Summer Sessions’ as one event. Hence, this proposal would again seem to be contrary to guidance. 

Summary 

What is not currently addressed in the PSEM (2014) is maintaining public access to the gardens – especially during a very busy period during the festival in August. It is clear that sections of WPSG will be impacted by the additional facilities required for these large scale events from 31 July to 24 August, during a time when the gardens could and should be a place for festival-goers and residents to relax. 

Furthermore, previous ‘Summer Sessions’ events are reported by residents to have a history of noise issues. It has also been reported to NTBCC that these events could be heard as far away as Powderhall, therefore for those residents living nearby, it must have been very intrusive. 

In addition, given the timing of these events, being coincident with (& directly adjacent to) the Edinburgh Tattoo, we are aware of inappropriate & unwelcome noise disturbances being reported from attendees at the long-standing and already consented Edinburgh Military Tattoo. 

The capacity being requested is well beyond the maximum stipulated for the Ross Bandstand (being 3,000 maximum standing) vs. the proposed 6,000 ticket event. NTBCC believe that the capacity being proposed is too large for the venue. The set-up to accommodate a doubling of capacity of the amphitheatre necessitates additional infrastructure being installed (an additional stage built on top of the bandstand). This again impacts both visually and availability / accessibility to the gardens. 

There are no details provided as to the Council ‘requirement’ for screens / curtains. As you will be aware, in 2019 - the gardens were initially boarded off but after a public outcry, these hard barriers were replaced by a temporary curtain to prevent non-ticket holders from seeing performances. Without any further details on this aspect, we assume this will happen again, even though public opinion is strongly opposed to park views being blocked. NTBCC’s position is that boarding off the Gardens is particularly objectionable, being inappropriate in a World Heritage site and is, in our view, driven by the desire to prevent people enjoying an event for free. Whilst we understand the concerns with respect to public safety, the imposition of barriers or temporary curtains is not supported and should not be a pre-requisite. If barriers or curtains are deemed necessary, then promoters should look for a different venue. 

Finally, we would note the creep in respect of the number of performances. Whilst we acknowledge the decision taken at the Culture & Communities on 28 January to limit the permitted number of concerts to a maximum of 9, we would note that as far as we are aware, there were 8 actual concerts in 2019. 

In summary, we do not support this proposal. 

If the proposal was for fewer concerts with a capacity that was consistent with the Ross Bandstand enclosure area, ideally scheduled as a pre-cursor for the main Edinburgh festival (i.e. in mid / late July) and due consideration was given to maintaining as far as practicable, public access to the gardens, with appropriate maximum noise level conditions being stipulated (& enforced) then this may be more acceptable. 

We would again stress that it is not the content of these events that we oppose but the number, overall duration, required capacity and other issues impacting on city centre residents’ amenity. 

On behalf of the New Town & Broughton Community Council 

Richard Price (Secretary, NTBCC) 

6th March 2020