Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 venue: George Square

Posted on: May 12, 2023

The absence of a tree protection plan to secure the long-term health of the site’s trees is simply unacceptable.

Address: George Square Gardens 62 George Square Edinburgh

Proposal: Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2023 venue site comprising two performance venues, box offices, bars, food traders and ancillary offices and storage.

Reference No: 23/01353/FUL

Closing date for comments: Fri 12 May 2023

Determination date: Fri 26 May 2023

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn Association OBJECTS to this application.

The Cockburn Association has considered plans for the use of the George Square Gardens as a Fringe venue by Underbelly Ltd. We acknowledge the fact that similar infrastructure has been erected on this site in previous years. We also acknowledge that George Square Gardens in not a publicly-owned open space per se but it does function of one.    

This application lacks tree protection and monitoring plan. Issues relating to tree protection and tree health in relation to the use of George Square as an event space have been consistently flagged up by concerned stakeholders, including the Cockburn Association.  The absence of a tree protection plan to secure the long-term health of the site’s trees is simply unacceptable.

The Cockburn has advocated that soft surfaced areas such as parks and gardens should not be used for infrastructure-heavy events due to the damage they cause to the ground and to the loss of essential public amenity space, even for relatively short periods of time.

Local Development Plan Policy ENV12 on Trees states “Development will not be permitted if likely to have a damaging impact on a tree protected by a Tree Preservation Order or on any other tree or woodland worthy of retention unless necessary for good arboricultural reasons. Where such permission is granted, replacement planting of appropriate species and numbers will be required to offset the loss to amenity.”  The proposed development is likely to have a damaging impact on the root systems of trees in the Square and is therefore inconsistent with this policy.   

None of trees along the perimeter of the gardens are proposed for a protection zone despite the very heavy and damaging infrastructure proposed, which included chiller units, water tanks, toilets, site cabins, etc.  

The Cockburn strongly advises that all trees are properly protected from damage and root compression and the applicant must submit a tree protection plan to this effective.   

We can see no plausible reason why most of the infrastructure could not be placed around the Square.  This would reduce the impact on the soft-surfaces and trees in the Square considerably.  

As such, we advocate amendments before this application can be acceptable.  Specifically, tree protection arrangements for all trees and not just those in the middle section of the gardens; removal of ancillary infrastructure from the gardens to the hardstanding area surrounding the gardens. Also, we advise that consent be given for one year only, with suitable monitoring arrangements in place to ensure the long-term health of trees in George Square Gardens.

At the Culture and Communities Committee on 11th May 2023 additional protection and monitoring was secured for trees in relation to the events taking place in Princes Street Gardens.  We would encourage the city of Edinburgh Council to promote similar protection and monitoring regime for events in all situations where trees are present.

Edinburgh has an ambitious target to become a Million Tree City by 2030 as part of its commitment to be net zero by the end of the decade.  The meaningful and effective protection of the city’s mature trees must be a major part of this commitment. Our mature trees currently provide invaluable well-being and ecological benefits but these benefits cannot be taken for granted.