Fly Open Air Music Festival in West Princes Street Gardens

Posted on: August 23, 2021

Our response to the Council’s request for comments about another commercial event being held Princes Street Gardens

We have been asked to formally comment on the application from Fly Events Ltd to host “FLY Open Air” in the normally free-to-access West Princes Street Gardens. The ticketed commercial event has been billed by the commercial events promoter as “Scotland’s largest youth music event” where “The main draw is cutting edge electronic music from some of the world’s biggest live acts and DJs.”

The promoter intends to take up residence in the park on Friday 10th September and be fully off-side by Thursday 23rd September. The actual event, held over three days 17th-19th September, is projected to draw 4000 attendees paying £35-£50 per ticket (tickets which have already “sold-out”).

Other activities planned in the public park during the event are listed briefly by Fly Events in their application:

“As well as welcoming thousands of young people to dance under the iconic backdrop of the castle, there is also a street food market, bespoke cocktail stalls, bars, VIP area, plus medical and waste recycling areas.”

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn through its long history has campaigned to protect Edinburgh’s parks and open spaces including West Princes Street Gardens. We appreciate the desire of the hospitality and events sectors to get back into operation following the enforced closure due to Covid. However, Covid as allowed us to reassess the importance of open spaces to the health and well-being of the city for its residents and visitors.

Our view is that West Princes Street Gardens is a public park, not a private events space. We hold no position on the type of activities or events that are or are not appropriate.  The issue is the impact on a public civic space in terms of accessibility, suitability and well-being in the widest sense.  All public attitude surveys since the late 1990s have shown that the two characteristics of West Princes Street Gardens valued the most by the public are its green-ness and its tranquillity.  This event, and others similar to it, are not consistent with these values.

We therefore object to this event (FLY Open Air) on the grounds that it takes over one of the capital’s premier public spaces, barring entry to it for a substantial and significant period (with set up and take down times added to the event itself) to all except those whom a commercial operator decides can gain access.  Ultimately, it is a private event that has at its core the need to offer exclusivity to ticket purchasers at the expense of public access and enjoyment.

In addition to this principle, we have several concerns which we outline below:

  • The use of the central part of WPSG will result in the inability of the public to move across the gardens unimpeded.  The proposals will effectively divide WPSG into two disconnected sections during times of operation.  This should be avoided with the public able to move from one area to another as freely as possible.
  • No times of operation are shown, thereby allowing the operator to restrict access for periods that are unnecessary.
  • The suggestion that concert users will be required to undertake a Lateral Flow test, stationed on King Stables Road suggests significant queuing issues off site, for which no management information is available.
  • The main access points, proposed for Lothian Road, presents substantial congestion issues during peak use.  Lothian Road is a major route with important bus stances beside the proposed main entrance.  Pedestrian congestion could be a safety issue.
  • There is no information on tree management or restoration requirements post the event.  A tick box asking if the applicant is aware of the Council’s policies is wholly inadequate and provides no assurance that these will be enforced given experience elsewhere in the City. Details should be included in the application.
  • We object to the proposed pop-up food and drink facilities.  It is essential that as part of the City’s Covid recovery strategy that we support existing local businesses who operate 365 days a year in the city, and not allow unfair competition from operators who are only tied to this event.
  • The event will be heavy in infrastructure, which will damage the soft landscaping. The site plan also suggests that structures will be placed over tree root systems, causing soil compaction and possible significant damage to the treescape.  This needs to be assessed before any consent can be granted.

Whilst we appreciate that the events sector is keen to hold such events for its customers, the Council should not allow land that is held as a Public Good to be used in this way.