George Square Gardens Event Venue Installation

Posted on: July 21, 2021

Our official submission on plans for permission to erect a commercial events venue on George Square Gardens (that has already been constructed).

Address:  George Square Gardens, 62 George Square. Edinburgh 

Proposal Installation of two temporary venues for Edinburgh Festival Fringe by Assembly Festival Ltd 

Ref No:  21/03380/FUL 

Closing date for comments: Friday 23rd July 2021 

Determination date:  Friday 20 August 2021 

Result:  Pending (although structure appears to be already built!) 

Cockburn Response

The Cockburn Association has carefully considered and chosen to object to these plans for the use of the George Square Gardens as a Fringe venue by Assembly Festival Ltd.  

We have great sympathy for local businesses who have been hardest hit by the lockdown restrictions and believe it is essential for the local economy get back on its feet and to get the iconic Festivals back in operation.  We made this clear in a communication to the City’s Planning Committee on 18 May in the context of the relaxation of planning control encouraged by the Scottish Government has part of the Covid recovery programme of action.   

The Cockburn acknowledges the fact that the applicant has erected similar infrastructure 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 as one. 

The Cockburn is aware that no planning consent has ever been sought for operations in George Square Gardens despite it being a very clear Change of Use to Class 11 (Assembly and Leisure) and operates for longer than the 28 days in any year, both conditions that require consent.  As such, the past history of occupation should not be taken as a material consideration in this application and should be given minimal weight.  In effect, from a planning perspective, this is a new application for a development in a pseudo-open space. 

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.  We are very concerned with the impact to the trees in the Square due to the proximity of the large tented structure, hospitality kiosks and related infrastructure to the trees, resulting in potential damage to the root systems. 

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.”   

This development is likely to have a damaging impact on the root systems of trees in the Square and is therefore inconsistent with this policy.  Before any application is granted, a tree survey must be submitted and trees properly protected from damage and root compression.  

We can see no plausible reason why most of the infrastructure could not be placed around the Square, reserving the more open section for the large-tented structure if absolutely necessary.  This would reduce the impact on the Square considerably.  

The Cockburn is also very concerned that the applicant has proceeded with development without a valid planning consent.   

On a site visit on 14 July, we noticed that the development was well advanced on site (see picture above). The Cockburn also understands that the VIP opening event is scheduled for Friday 23 July, which is also the closing day for submissions on the planning portal. This suggests either extreme confidence in gaining approval or contempt for the statutory planning system in this city.