Public feedback informs plans for West Princes Street Gardens

A new report sets out proposals for the future management of West Princes Street Gardens following a major public consultation exercise.

Winning design by wHY‘West Princes Street Gardens Project – Update’ will be discussed by councillors on the City of Edinburgh Council’s Transport and Environment Committee next week (Thursday 4 October).

It will recommend the gardens remain under the management and operation of the Council, rather than an arms-length external organisation (ALEO) as had previously been proposed, and that no more than five major* events take place in the Gardens per year in line with the park’s current rules.

The suggestions follow a major public consultation exercise which was carried out by the Council and the Ross Development Trust between June and September, which drew more than 1,200 responses from residents.

It found the project to revitalise the gardens and replace the Ross Bandstand has strong citywide support, with 54% saying they agree with the proposed vision for West Princes Street Gardens. 59% also believe infrastructure investment is needed, with a replacement Ross Pavilion and improved accessibility the areas of most importance to residents.

The survey responses demonstrated a lack of support for the proposed charitable ALEO to take on the day to day management responsibilities of the Pavilion once built (46%) and also highlighted support for hosting no more than five major annual events (68%).

Responding to the feedback, the Trust and Council officers have revisited several aspects and have brought forward an updated set of recommendations which provide an alternative route towards the project’s original objective of providing a guarantee that the new infrastructure for the much-loved West Princes Street Gardens will be suitably maintained.

Councillor Karen Doran, Transport and Environment Vice Convener, said: “In the heart of the city centre, sitting in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle between the Old and New Towns, these Gardens are one of our city’s greatest assets.

“The recommendations in this report present an opportunity for the Council and Ross Development Trust to truly revitalise the area in keeping with the feedback we’ve received, with the city in control of the future operational management.

“Already, thanks to the Ross Development Trust, we’ve seen the Ross Fountain restored to its original condition, beautiful upgrades to the Gardener’s Cottage, and an international design competition to find a winning architectural concept. We’re now looking forward to discussing this report at Committee and working with the Trust under a carefully drawn up management plan to realise the full potential of this important project and its design.”

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener, said: “We’ve had an overwhelming response to this consultation and the exercise has been extremely helpful. Thanks to the feedback received, we’ve been able to make adjustments to the proposals. It is also clear from the results of the consultation that the citizens of Edinburgh are really behind the project’s vision and the possibilities a new Ross Pavilion will bring. I’m confident we are close to finding a way forward which should work for all involved and crucially, the people of Edinburgh.”

David Ellis, Managing Director of the Ross Development Trust, said: “Having reviewed the results of the consultation, it was clear that the public were not in favour of the council giving up the day to day management of the gardens. Our work over the last year has focused on being able to provide assurance to potential donors that our improvements in the gardens will be suitably maintained upon completion.

"With the lack of support for the ALEO we worked closely with the council to come up with a new solution that would offer this assurance. We believe the proposed revised development agreement offers this clarity along with the council’s commitment to financially support the project. If the recommendations are accepted by committee we can begin the exciting work on the design development.”

The report details suggested revisions to the current Development Agreement between the Council and the Trust, to protect the legacy of the Trust’s investment and enable the continuation of the project.

It will outline that the Council will maintain all infrastructure within the gardens to an agreed standard. It will also ask the Council to agree a robust business plan for the Pavilion and wider area, working in partnership with Ross Development Trust. This plan will be developed in parallel with design developments and fundraising campaigning while outlining that no physical work will commence in the gardens until all funds are in place. 

To help the Trust start its fundraising campaign and to demonstrate the Council’s support for this exciting project, the Council will be asked to agree to an in-principle, 20% contribution of the total project capital costs as a funder of last resort, capped at a maximum of £5m and subject to consideration and approval through the Council’s Capital Investment Programme process.  

The full report and results of the consultation can be viewed here.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

*The Council’s current guidelines are for no more than five major events to take place a year. Major is defined as a large-scale ticketed event which requires the building of infrastructure, features high audience numbers and results in disruption or impact on the Gardens. Examples include Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Concert in the Gardens and Virgin Money Festival Fireworks. Other, smaller-scale events would not be defined as major and currently take place too.

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