“Edinburgh’s Christmas” 2021 – Three applications

Posted on: October 20, 2021

Our submissions to the three separate applications connected to this year’s “Edinburgh’s Christmas” provision by Underbelly. We have grouped each of them here in one post for ease of reading.

The Cockburn Association has examined the following three interconnected applications for a Christmas Market and other activities submitted by Underbelly. In doing so, the Cockburn believes that there are common issues for each, and the separation of what is a single event into three different applications is unhelpful when considering the cumulative impact of the proposals.

  • 21/04950/FUL – George StreetErection of Edinburgh’s Christmas at George Street including an ice rink, Christmas market stalls associated site offices, stores and ancillary facilities (Proposed Application for one year 2021 – 2022 & variation on granted planning permission ref 20/03708/FUL).
    21/04953/FUL – East Princes Street Gardens  – Erection of Edinburgh’s Christmas at East Princes Street Gardens and the Mound Precinct including Christmas market stalls, fairground rides associated site office, stores and ancillary facilities (proposed for 1 year 2021-2022 and variation on Ref: 20/03707/FUL).
  • 1/04954/FUL – West Princes Street Gardens –  Erection of Edinburgh’s Christmas at West Princes Street Gardens including Christmas market stalls, fairground rides, Santa’s grotto, Christmas tree maze, Associated site offices, stores, and ancillary facilities (Proposed for one year 2021 – 2022).

Click each hyperlink above for further information.

Last date for comments: Fri 22 Oct 2021

Determination deadline: Fri 19 Nov 2021

Decision: Pending

Cockburn Response

We note that the application is for this year only and that the provision of Winter Festival activities will be subject to a tendering exercise to be conducted by the City Council shortly.

We also note that other cities such as Leeds, London and Newcastle have decided to cancel their Christmas Markets or major holiday celebrations this year due to concerns about Covid and the management of large-scale events during the continued pandemic.  Whilst we appreciate the comments made by the applicant in the Design Statements on the need to adhere to government rules and guidelines, we have some concerns for the un-caveated support given to the event (and by extension, these applications) by City of Edinburgh Councillors as reported in local media outlets, without any reference to the City Council’s responsibilities to managing civic spaces during the pandemic.

It is instructive that in Newcastle, local traders have also cited unfair competition from the pop-up hospitality and retail provisions in their local Christmas Market as a significant point of concern for them.  The Cockburn realises and sympathises with the challenges that local businesses have faced over the past 20 months.  It is therefore essential that any festive activity aims, first and foremost, to increase activity for the brick-and-mortar businesses in the city.  In our discussions with local businesses, this a real concern for them.  As such, the Cockburn believes that a local economic study should be required as part of any consent (should it be given) to quantify the level of economic spillage outside the city.

On 19 May 2021, the Cockburn responded to the consultation held by the City Council on the future of the Winter Festivals.  Here, we recognised their popularity and their contribution to the vibrancy of the city in past years.  However, we also noted that they are major commercial events rather than cultural activities and that  the Christmas Market has changed from the German Market that occupied the Mound with largely authentic products and produce to a disruptive, generic event that imposes significant restrictions on local residents, mainly targeting the tourist market with 2018 figures indicating that less than 50% of attendees to the Christmas Market were locals (falling to just 20% for Hogmanay).

In due course , we called for a dispersal of activities noting that the significant problem with the Winter Festivals pre-Covid was the desire of commercial operators to concentrate activity is a small area.  With the Christmas Market, this meant East Princes Street Gardens which were unable and unsuitable to cope with an ever-increasing activity.  The Cockburn therefore strongly advocated the creation of a Christmas City Centre Trail using sites across the City Centre in various locations for markets which could bring additional benefits to those areas. we suggested that this should include existing markets, such as those in Stockbridge, Castle Terrace Car Park and the Grassmarket, as part of this trail as well as Festival Square and Conference Square which could also provide an excellent location for the Winter Festivals which could be coupled with The Mound/Waverley Bridge and the possibly the High Street to form an excellent offer.

As such, we are pleased that the concentration on East Princes Street Gardens alone has changed.

Overall, the Cockburn has recognised a lot of movement since 2019 and the unlawful erection of the massive space deck.  We remain concerned with the proposals as they stand, and believe that greater efforts in terms of dispersal, further reduction in use of soft surfaced areas and a greater need to support local businesses is required.

We note that these applications are for this year only and should be seen in the context of re-opening up the city to its citizens.

We offer specific comments on 21/04950/FUL – George Street below.

The Cockburn OBJECTS to this application.

The Cockburn has no objection to the use of George Street for a dedicated ice rink with ancillary functions such as toilets and changing facilities. However, we cannot support this application as no details of the actual structure to be erected have been submitted with the application.  There is no way of ascertaining the impact on the neighbouring businesses or listed buildings and Conservation Area without these details , and we strongly advise that no consent be issued until this information has been submitted.  It is essential that any development here respects the qualities of George Street and the World Heritage Site.

No information on the management of support infrastructure is provided.  We are concerned with the impact of generators, etc on the immediate environment.  Similarly, we are also concerned with the lengthy periods required for set up and take down of the temporary structures and the disruption that this will cause for pedestrians and businesses alike.

The site boundary runs up the curb line on both sides of the street.  The current relaxation for outdoor seating has seen many of the hospitality businesses exploit the opportunity with substantial outdoor dining arrangements especially on the north side of the street.  The implication of Underbelly’s application is that these facilities will need to be moved before the erection of the ice rink can begin.  As it seems likely that the relaxation of licensing will continue, this needs to be clarified as a matter of some urgency.  In addition, the potential crowding of restricted pavement space seems likely, and could make crowd management more challenging.

The Cockburn would wish to object to the proposed pop-up bars and retail shacks within the ice rink enclosure.  As already noted in our general comments, we believe that these represent unfair competition to existing businesses who are struggling to recover from the past 20 months of restrictions.  We understand that these views are also shared by the George Street Association which represents a wide of local interests.

We offer specific comments on 21/04953/FUL – East Princes Street Gardens & The Mound below.

The Cockburn SUPPORTS this application.

Firstly, we have no specific concerns in regard to the use of The Mound for the Christmas Market.  This has been used for several decades now and if properly managed should present no issues.

We do have concerns with pop-up bars, preferring trade to be given to permanent businesses who operate year-round.

With regard to the upper terrace in East Princes Street Gardens, we would prefer this to be deleted from the proposals and possibly moved to Waverley Bridge.  This would avoid damaging the soft surfaces and permitted other activities such as the remembrance garden greater time to be enjoyed.  It must be said that we have little confidence in either Underbelly or the City Council in restoring the area of ground post-damage or in preventing it in the first place

We offer specific comments on 21/04954/FUL – West Princes Street Gardens below.

The Cockburn SUPPORTS this application.

This is a new use for WPSG and one for which we have significant concerns.

The application suggests that only the blaise area will be used but the site plan shows that the soft area of landscape is proposed for use as the maze and maze entrance.  We are concerned with the impacts that will be caused to the area of ground which has not been subjected to high use levels in the past.  It is therefore highly susceptible to damage and should not be used for this type of activity.

Traditionally, WPSG closes at dusk.  Whilst we appreciate the desire for this part of the Christmas Market to be open later (10pm according to the Design Statement), the implications of this need careful consideration.  Will this result in the erection of a barrier across the Gardens to prevent access to areas to the east of the Ross Fountain?  How will it look?  Will it be staffed, and by whom?  This could present an unsightly and aggressive barrier which would affect open access during normal hours or would at least impact on the openness of this most important civic space. No information on this has been provided on this and should be before any consent is considered.

The use of St Cuthbert’s Graveyard for operational servicing should be avoided.  Experiences of other events recently suggests too great a conflict between vehicles and pedestrians.  The management of the graveyard in the dark hours is also issue that requires attention.  There is no reason why it could not be made attractive.

No information is provided on the location of generators, etc. This needs clarification.