Events and Filming in Public Space Consultation

Posted on: December 13, 2021

Our formal response to this Local Authority consultation on events and filming activities that take place in public spaces

Public Consultation By: City of Edinburgh Council

Overview: The Council is consulting on how the public open spaces it controls are used for events and filming. Find out more about the consultation at the link beneath out comments below.

Opened for comments: 22 September 2021

Closing date for comments: 15 December 2021

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn participated in a Stakeholders Forum organised by the Council and chaired by Councillor Donald Wilson, Convenor of the Culture and Communities Committee.  It included event and filming organisers, community councils, residents’ groups, business groups, friends’ groups, Council officers and interested individuals, and collaboratively engaged in an exercise to develop and recommend key principles for the use of public open space.

The current consultation is on these principles, and will inform the preparation of a Management Plan which will set out how Edinburgh will manage public open spaces (parks, greenspace, roads, plazas, squares under Council control) for events and filming.

The following is the Association’s response to the online consultation exercise.

Recommended Key Principle:

The Application and Approval for events and filming will be based on the scale of the activity, the impact it will have, both short and long term.

Q3. To what extent do you agree that decisions on events and filming should be based on the impact they will have on people and places?

Cockburn’s response – AGREE

Q4. Please Offer comments

This open-ended question makes giving a coherent and helpful comments difficult.  The Cockburn agrees that the approval of events and filming applications should be based on its impact first and foremost to the wider amenity of the city.

Fundamental to this should be the principle that the public have an absolute right of access to public land (parks, gardens, civic squares, streets) and any impact or dilution of this by events or filming activity must be considered carefully and cumulatively.

Scale of the event is only one contributor to impact and whilst the general thinking that smaller events have smaller impacts may hold true, this may not always be the case.  Similarly, a large-scale event, such the Edinburgh Marathon, due to how it operates, may not.

Nevertheless, an impact-based approach is welcome.

We would add a particular caveat on public spaces held on the Common Goods Register.  These spaces should also be framed in a wider public benefit principle, whereby access to these spaces by commercial events should start from the principle of no loss of access or enjoyment.  Thus, if a commercial event requires exclusive access or has specific safety requirements suggesting that access rights should be suspended, even temporarily, then the default position is that space is unsuitable for that event.

It is essential that the application process builds into it a proportionate and clear enforcement dimension.  Conditions attached to events must be monitored and adhered to in all circumstances.  There should be a presumption against relaxation of standards for temporary activities, and mitigating requirements should be put in place as part of any consents issued.  For example, permanent hospitality businesses with amplified music are required to have sound monitors and comply with strict conditions, including processes that cut power if agreed levels are exceeded.  Similar conditions with appropriate enforcement measures should be in place for public spaces.

Recommended Key Principles:

Events and filming deliver beneficial social value and support a lasting positive legacy for Edinburgh. Events and filming provide net positive economic, social and community benefits.

Q5. For Edinburgh – for an individual event or filming, what do you feel is important? Please select the level of importance for each of the below.

Financial benefit – not important

Social Benefit – important

Community Benefit – Very Important

Q6. For your local area – for an individual event or filming, what do you feel is important? Please select the level of importance for each of the below.

Financial Benefit – not important

Social Benefit – very important

Community Benefit – very important

Q7. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

Firstly, the assumption that events bring positive and lasting benefits needs to quantified and in many cases, challenged.  Very little analysis of the negative impact of filming and events has been undertaken.  Assertions of positive value can derive from untested or incomplete information that may overstate positive values and understate negative ones.  For example, a paper considered by the Policy and Sustainability Committee on 10 January 2021 on filming noted that a specific event generated less than £250,000 in income for the city but was required to be spent on the variety of traffic regulation and management, meaning the actual value of the filming was cost neutral. The paper highlighted the brand and marketing value but ignored the fact that the vast majority of tourists come to Edinburgh because of its historic architecture and townscape.  No analysis of the derivate added-value was undertaken.

The benefit of allowing public spaces to be used for private ventures should be required to demonstrate a direct benefit to the City.

Economically, the direct value to the City may be small in comparison to the value extracted by event operators.  For example, the Council’s published price list for holding events in Princes Street Gardens states a price of only £2,820 per day for a major event.  Gross ticket sales might be in excess of £250,000 for each day, and given no net profit information is available for study, it seems clear that use of public spaces is heavily discounted in comparison to the value of the use of that space to operators.  There are no published data sets that outline how much value from an event stays within the city.  It is entirely possible that the net value is quite small.

Many events are locally organised for local people.  These are a direct public benefit and are supportable.  However, it is important to differentiate between local and city-wide benefits, and to ensure that an event that might have wider positive value does not occur at a negative or disproportionate scale for those local neighbourhoods who might need to bare the most immediate impacts.

Recommended Key Principle:

The use of council-owned or public good sites for commercial events should be framed within a Community wealth building approach.

Q8. To what extent do you agree that ‘The use of council-owned or public good sites for commercial events should be framed within a Community wealth building approach.’?

Cockburn’s response – AGREE

Q9. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

In principle, we welcome this approach.

The Council should seek in all instances to ensure that any use of public space should be to the benefit of the public.

Recommended Key Principle:

Information on events and filming will be as open and transparent as confidentiality allows and proportionate to the scale of the activity and the impact it will have. It will be provided at the earliest opportunity, to all those who may be interested in it, in appropriate and accessible formats.

Q10. At what stage would you like to have information on events and filming?

Cockburn’s response – When a full application is made

Q11. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

Whilst we would encourage as open and transparent a process as possible, this may not be possible in all instances.   The use of public space for commercial events or filming should not be seen as a right.  Indeed the emerging Management Plan should make clear that using public assets for private commercial benefit is a privilege.  Therefore, we believe that confidentiality should be a secondary consideration to whether information is made available. Certainly, proportionality is accepted, but any attempt to conceal information on the scale or impact under the vail of confidentiality should be avoided at all costs.  This should be made clear in any application process.

Recommended Key Principle:

Area Conditions will have information available on the area including stakeholders, facilities, capacity, toilets, key contacts.

Q12. What’s important for you, that you feel organisers should have local information on when they are planning an event or filming in your area? (select all that apply)

Key people to contact (e.g. local suppliers, community / friends groups) ✅

Local facilities (e.g. toilets, electricity and water supply, storage)

Capacity (number of people who can attend at one time) ✅

Local suppliers and trades

Parking arrangements

Public transport

Access for deliveries

Access for care and health services

School activities and routes to schools

Q13. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

We appreciate that each area or site will have particular conditions are issues that are special to it, as well as wider more common conditions.  We would advocate that the Council, working with local groups, civic organisations and event representatives work together to determine those core conditions and information for each site as a useful guide for local and organisers alike.

Missing from this list is the carrying capacity of the public space to able to host a particular event.  Soft landscaped areas may be unsuitable for heavy infrastructure activities and could damage the public space to such an extent as to limit public access post-event.  An analysis of specific site conditions including tree and root systems, ground conditions, etc would be valuable in determining the acceptability or otherwise of a particular event at a particular site.

Common Good Land should appear as a separate condition.  If a public space is included on the Common Goods Register and is therefore a Common Goods Asset, this constraint should feature as local information.

Finally, when activities take place in parks or gardens, it is essential that the area conditions emphasis that the greenspace is the predominant characteristic to be considered.  These areas should not be considered venues within a landscaped setting, but are landscapes where events might be tolerated.

Recommended Key Principle:

A digital platform will hold:

  • an events and filming calendar
  • planned disruption to an area such as road works or construction
  • Area conditions
  • an application template with a guide to what’s required for a successful application, including notification of stakeholders likely to be impacted.
  • record and communicate the positive benefits events and filming provide, as well as the negative impacts, to ensure balanced analysis. 

Q14. How useful to you would be being able to see information on events and filming, both proposals and approved, on a web platform?

Cockburn’s response – Very Useful

Q16. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

We would welcome a new digital platform for events and filming in the city.

Access restrictions should be included under Area Conditions, especially if the Council promotes a section 11 exclusion under the Land Reform Act effectively extinguishing the public’s legal right of access to public land.

The cumulative impact of repeated activities is an important issue that should be addressed here.  In many circumstances, it is not a single activity that causes an impact but repeated events in a single space – for example, damage to soft surfaced areas like lawns.  A digital platform should be able to reflect changing circumstances that might reflect the suitability of use, or otherwise, of a site capability to host an event.

Recommended Key Principle:

Organisers must demonstrate that events and filming respect and contribute to the city’s cultural identity, reputation and quality of life for residents. They will be expected to join with Edinburgh residents in taking responsibility for the good appearance of the city.

Q16. To what extent do you agree that events and filming organisers should respect and contribute to the city’s cultural identity, reputation and quality of life for residents?

Cockburn’s response – strongly agree.

Q17. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

We would support the second aspiration of the principle, namely sharing with residents (and other sectors too) responsibility for the appearance of the city.  Therefore, there should be a requirement for events and filming operations to articulate their specific positive contribution to this principle including an aspiration/expectation that public spaces are left in at least the same if not better condition than when the event took place. For significant activities, this might mean a condition survey is undertaken prior to approval to set a benchmark for management and reinstatement, if needed.

With the first element, we would support this.  Guidance will be necessary to help organisers understand what is expected of them, including expections of local residents for their amenity.  We would advocate that the Council improves its Environmental Health monitoring and enforcement systems, controls and capacity, providing a simple portal for any concerns regarding impacts on the quality of life.

Clear and unambiguous guidance on noise and access/travel disruption is needed.  Similarly, organisers must ensure that they adhere to other regulatory frameworks, policies and guidelines.  For example, in many instances operators have undertaken significant events without the necessary planning consents in place.  Clear information on when consents are required is necessary including timescales for the appropriate consideration of information or applications.  We believe that the core environment policies in the Local Development Plan should be made clear to organisers as a set of agreed principles for spatial management in the city.  This would include information at the point of application on whether planning consent is required.  In this regard, a more integrated, joined-up Council service will be required.

Recommended Key Principle:

Events and filming must comply with Edinburgh’s Sustainability Approach to be ‘net zero’ by 2030 and events with the principles of ISO 20121.

Q18. How important for you is it to have information on the carbon impact of events and filming?

Cockburn response – Very important

Q19. How important for you is it to have information on what organisers of events and filming are doing to reduce their overall carbon impact?

Cockburn response – Very important

Recommended Key Principle:

Applications will be expected to follow the principles and guidelines. In exceptional circumstances an applicant may seek modification or departure from these principles but will be required to present their case, including mitigations, to impacted stakeholders and for scrutiny by the Council. The Council, after due consideration and taking account of comments, will not be obliged to grant the exception.

Q20. In exceptional circumstances, do you think it would be OK for an event or filming to deviate from these principles, where it would have a clear positive benefit for Edinburgh?

Cockburn response – Yes

Q21. Please use the space below for any comments or suggestions on the above.

The nature of “exceptional” and “clear positive benefit” will need to be defined.  Any decision-making process needs to have proportionate and transparent mechanism for such exceptions.

We would suggest that the request to extinguish access rights under section 11 of the Land Reform Act be considered an exceptional circumstance by definition.  Only in the most significant applications should denying access to public space be considered acceptable.  If a commercial event requires such exclusivity, then it is mostly likely an unsuitable event.