Members briefing: Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay 2019

There can be no doubt that concern about the impact of Edinburgh’s visitor economy has grown considerably in recent years. I share the frustration about the creeping privatisation of public space in Edinburgh, particularly how people are locked out of public parks and the lack of respect for our heritage. It feels like too many people in this city see profit in everything, and value in nothing.

Councillor Donald Wilson has already committed to leading a full review, and I hope the public and all 63 of Edinburgh’s Councillors will get behind that. The briefing below offers some background to this.

The review should be more fundamental than how we manage the status quo. There are really three key questions:

  1. What scale is right?
  2. Is the quality of what we’re offering positioning Edinburgh optimally?
  3. Who benefits?

Whilst we probably want different things from the visitor economy, it’s making a difference to the lives of residents than matters. For me the starting point is to understand what Edinburgh wants to gain from its visitor economy, and then we must deliver that.

The Briefing
Members will consider reports in the near future relating to the 2019/20 Winter Festivals and, later this year, the Council will launch a public consultation to seek residents’ views on how the Capital should celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay in future years. There is a recognised need for a full conversation with the city on the shape of our winter festivals going forward.

In light of this, and following significant press and social media attention recently on Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, please find below a briefing which addresses a number of key issues about both events, to enable Elected Members to respond to enquiries from constituents.

Issues Relating to Christmas and Hogmanay 2019
Edinburgh’s Christmas – Planning Permission and Building Warrant
As a result of the National Gallery of Scotland’s capital works programme, it became necessary to amend the layout for Edinburgh’s Christmas. The plans and temporary structures were approved after significant evaluation and assessment by both independent structural engineers and the Council’s engineers. Given the short timescale between approval of the plans and the opening of the events, a retrospective planning application was sought by the operator (Underbelly). This application is currently being processed with a likely determination date of April/May 2020.

Underbelly applied for a Building Warrant for East Princes Street Gardens and the warrant was issued by the local authority before Edinburgh’s Christmas opened, as is legally required.

The new structure in the gardens improved circulation space within the market and made it more accessible.

Edinburgh’s Christmas – Removal of the Norwegian Christmas Tree and the Nativity scene from The Mound
The Norwegian Tree and Nativity scene were removed in the days between Christmas and Hogmanay to allow for the screen on Mound Place, which is necessary for the Hogmanay Street Party and for safety announcements. The removal of the Tree was undertaken with the knowledge and consent of the Council and the Norwegian Consulate; and the removal of the Nativity scene with the knowledge and consent of the Council.

The Mound Christmas tree had been in place since 16 November; its removal from the Mound took place on the same date as the two previous years. The Nativity scene was relocated in 2019 from St Andrew Square where it has been located previously.

Edinburgh’s Christmas – Reinstatement of Princes Street Gardens
Every year, the Council appoints a contractor to reinstate East Princes Street Gardens following the departure of the Christmas market. The reinstatement is overseen by the Council’s Parks Team, delivered by a third-party contractor, and paid for entirely by Underbelly.

This year, work to reinstate the gardens has started earlier than usual. The reinstatement works are weather dependent and a target of Easter for full reopening is usually set. However, with good weather it is hoped that this can be several weeks earlier this year.

The redevelopment works by the National Galleries of Scotland were delayed and incomplete by the time Underbelly took occupation of East Princes Street Gardens. In recognition of this, a financial contribution towards the completion of the works has been agreed between the Council and National Galleries of Scotland. This work will be delivered alongside the Christmas market reinstatement works.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – Resident and Business Access Passes
Residents and their guests have never been, and will never be, prevented from accessing their own homes during Hogmanay. The process of asking residents to inform the event organiser how many passes they require for their property is a process that was put in place many years ago.

The Street Party attracts over 60,000 people into Edinburgh city centre. A secure arena is erected to control numbers accessing the street (a recommendation from the review of the 1997 street party) and to ensure the safety of those attending. To assist residents and businesses within the arena, a system for access passes was established in the late 1990s. This year, tickets were replaced with wristbands to allow quicker and smoother access through security to resident and business properties. Reports show that this worked successfully. This year, 45 residences submitted requests for more than 6 wristbands compared to 24 in 2018. All requests were accommodated and no access was restricted or refused.

The Public Entertainment Licence granted for the Hogmanay events allows the event organiser to restrict access to the licensed premises – in this case, the Street Party arena. However, the Street Party takes place in a mixed residential and business area and access to these properties must be maintained at all times. Given the requirement to balance access against safety and security, the pass system is considered by all agencies to be the best solution. The communications around this will be reviewed for 2020.

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – Loony Dook
For safety reasons, primarily due to the narrow access route on a set of stairs and the size of the beach, there is a limit on the number of participants taking part at the Loony Dook in South Queensferry. The number, 1,100, is agreed jointly with the local community, the Council and safety advisors.

The price of the Loony Dook was set at £10 including a donation to the RNLI by the previous contractor, Unique Events, in 2016. Underbelly set the price at £12, including a £1 donation to the RLNI in 2017 and it has remained the same price since. Underbelly operates the event at a loss to itself of over £7,000: the income after VAT and the donation to the RNLI is £9,912 and the costs – stewarding, policing, safety and production – are over £17,000.

The South Queensferry Loony Dook has been part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay for some years now and is part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay at the request of the community as a result of the popularity of the event. It is still run in collaboration with some of the founders of the Loony Dook in South Queensferry.

Christmas and Hogmanay – Consultation, Review and Future
At Culture and Communities Committee on 18 June 2019, it was agreed that a review and consultation exercise on the future of the Christmas and Hogmanay events would be undertaken prior to the termination of the current contract in 2022. This would allow sufficient time for the consultation to be completed and to agree a means of delivering the outcomes of that consultation.

The format of the consultation is currently being developed and the proposed process will be shared with Members in the coming weeks. The key requirement will be to ensure that all voices within the city, and stakeholders beyond, are heard.

Factual inaccuracies reported in the mediaThe
re were several errors in media coverage over recent weeks, including in the Guardian/Observer and via the Press Association. These were highlighted as quickly as possible and subsequently corrected.

Key facts about Edinburgh’s Christmas and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

  1. The economic impact of Edinburgh’s Christmas is calculated at £113.2m on Edinburgh; £88.2m on Scotland (reported by BOP Consulting in an independent survey of 2018).
  2. Edinburgh’s Christmas is a significant draw for people into the city centre – 96% of local people said Edinburgh’s Christmas was an important reason for visiting the city centre; 58% of visitors (non-local) said Edinburgh’s Christmas was their only or main reason for visiting.
  3. Edinburgh’s Christmas directly employs over 300 local people.
  4. Edinburgh’s Christmas community benefits were valued at £534,000 in 2018/19 (including 26,741 free tickets).
  5. Edinburgh’s Christmas provides several free to access events including Winter Windows, 24 Doors of Advent, Light Night and Community Christmas, a new event for 2019 which took Edinburgh’s Christmas direct to 12 communities across Edinburgh over 12 separate days. The Winter Windows event had 1,680 entries from schools across Edinburgh.
  6. The economic impact of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is calculated at £39.2m on Edinburgh; £39.8m on Scotland (reported by BOP Consulting in an independent survey of 2018).
  7. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay directly employs over 500 people and, indirectly, an estimated 1,600 other people.
  8. The contract has delivered a £1m saving per annum to the Council for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and Edinburgh’s Christmas compared to the previous contract, which expired in 2017.
  9. Public funding now only makes up 27% of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay income (compared to 41% in 2016/17) (figures for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay 18/19).
  10. The Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme delivers free to attend events including the First Footers Family Ceilidh on 1 January and Message from the Skies which runs to 25 January.
  11. In 2019/20 there was footfall of over 2.5 million through East Princes Street Gardens and more local people than ever used their 20% EH postcode discount, buying 196,656 tickets: a 23.9% increase on the same events in 2018.
  12. 2019/20 saw 18,000 free tickets given away to Edinburgh and Scotland-wide charities and community groups, an increase of 173% on the same events in 2018.

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