EIF goes outdoors in 2021

April 13, 2021

Our response to the news that EIF intends only to use outdoor venues in 2021

The Cockburn Association welcomes the news that the Edinburgh International Festival is proposing several new outdoor venue spaces for the 2021 Edinburgh Festival.

The two named locations – in the Old Quad at the University of Edinburgh and the other near the tram depot in West Edinburgh – are consistent with our repeated calls for a new, innovative approach to be adopted for performance spaces that do not damage soft-surfaced areas in public parks or gardens and disperses the Festival across the city.  We would also suggest that Festival Square and Conference Square would be excellent locations.

The Cockburn agrees that cultural activities, such as the International Festival, can contribute to a sustainable, engaging platform to assist the city’s recovery from the global pandemic.  Our recent conference, “Whose Festival is it Anyway?”, highlighted the wide support for the culture offer in the city, but also noted the need for it to be more locally focused, dispersing its value throughout the city.

However, in pursuing these new outdoor spaces, it is essential that the fiasco of Underbelly’s Christmas Market in 2019 or the University’s unauthorised development in Bristo Square are avoided.  These are engineered structures.  We call on venue owners, the City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government to work urgently to ensure that the appropriate regulatory consents are put in place, working closing with local communities, businesses and interest groups to address any impacts caused by such development.

Professor Cliff Hague, the Cockburn’s chair, wrote in a recent opinion piece in The Scotsman that:

“…a strategic approach to the use of civic spaces is required. Hard standing areas more suited to large events need to be prioritised. This could contribute to a different geography for the festivals. Could festivals and major events in 2021 be staged in car parks at shopping centres or beside Murrayfield or Tynecastle?” 

He added, “Edinburgh is more than just a space to absorb as many visitors as possible.” Furthermore, “a fundamental principle of supporting local businesses first and foremost should be in place, resisting ‘pop-up’ or ‘brought-in’ elements that compete with them.” As such, any consent for temporary venues should require they provide direct support to neighbouring businesses.

Finally, COVID has not disappeared.  It is essential that all public health guidelines are built into these proposals, allowing for social distancing of queues in adjacent public spaces, safe access and egress routes from performances and where appropriate, measures to protect the amenity and safety of local residents.