Edinburgh Christmas festival shake-up as events to be spread across city

Saturday August 5th 2023



A major shake-up of Edinburgh’s Christmas celebrations is set to see festivities spread across the city for the first time, as the council looks to increase offerings for people living outwith the centre.

Portobello, Leith and Tollcross are just a few of several ‘town centres’ tipped to get attractions from winter 2024 as part of the “ambitious” plans.

Edinburgh City Council will take on a new contractor to run the festival from next year using a fresh approach that will allow for detailed negotiations to be held before any deals are signed.

Emphasis has been placed on protection of trees and greenspaces, especially Princes Street Gardens, in revised specifications set out by city officials.

And any activity on George Street will be required to “have a strong cultural element and be sympathetic to the existing retail and business”.

It comes after the capital’s popular Christmas and Hogmanay events were threatened with cancellation last year weeks before they were due to start, as a result of previous contractors’ failure to deliver what they had promised.

Consortium Unique Assembly, who stepped in amid the fiasco, is running the 2023 programme and will stay on to organise the New Year’s Eve celebrations next year, with the new contractor taking on both elements from 2025 for at least two years.

Hopes of the council taking on the running of Edinburgh’s Christmas itself were dashed in June after a report said the authority didn’t have enough money, skills or expertise to pull off. Councillors then agreed to proceed with a “prime contractor model, through negotiated procedure”.

Culture and communities convener Val Walker said: “We need to be sure there is enough time to negotiate the contract. We want to move away from process where we cannot question bits; that are are able to ask ‘how are you going to be able to do that?’

Cllr Walker added: “We need to see the detail.”

The successful bidder will be expected to deliver ‘a programme of events/installations that use light as a central theme; city centre Christmas lights switch-on; installation of a nativity scene and carol concert; a series of live music and/or street theatre/performance events and installations; a torchlight procession, and a Hogmanay Celebration on 31st December, including a significant midnight moment’.

They will also be invited to “identify new creative activities and events to refresh the programme”.

Among the priorities for the council under the new agreement is supporting local traders and “sharing the celebrations around the city”.

As well as market stalls and funfair rides in the city centre, the agreed operator must bring Christmas-themed amusements and events to “the nine local town centres and communities outwith the city centre”.

These are: Corstorphine; Gorgie / Dalry; Leith Central; Leith Walk; Morningside/Bruntsfield; Nicolson St/Clerk St Street; Portobello; Stockbridge, and Tollcross.

Councillor Walker said: “This is ambitious, there’s no question about that because we need to work with these communities so that they are happy and in agreement with these markets, festivals, events being located in their community, and it could be that not everybody is initially.

“But it’s so important we have that engagement and consent and we don’t just drop this in.

“What I want to see is that in the centre of the city we have quality, we have excellence that will attract residents and visitors, but residents can feel proud of our city and at the same time we develop the community events in neighbourhoods across the city.”

The contract specification, which will be scrutinised by councillors next week, reads: “Impact on greenspaces should be minimised as far as possible.

“All sites must prioritise power sources that do not rely on diesel generators. Wherever possible, alternatives must be used.

“Large events in Princes Street Gardens can have a significant detrimental impact on the gardens and their infrastructure including paths, bankings and beds.

“The contractor should minimise disruption and impact on the gardens and devise innovative solutions to ensure minimal reinstatement is required and that the gardens are not adversely impacted. Solutions that make minimal use of the soft/green landscaping gardens and more use of hard standing will be viewed more favourably

“Activities proposed must have no detrimental impact on the trees or shrubs within the gardens. Proposals that have little or no impact on trees or shrubs will be favoured.”

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