Councillors to discuss outline business case for future of West Princes Street Gardens

Councillors will be presented with an update on the next evolutionary chapter in the story of one of Edinburgh's most famous locations.

The outline business case for West Princes Street Gardens will be discussed at the Culture and Communities Committee next week (Tuesday 28 January).

The Quaich Outline Business Case sets out the current direction and key principles of the outline approach which will see the creation of a Welcome Centre. This will make the Gardens accessible to all through a new lift, access slopes and customer facilities and a business model which will see a small number of large events. As a result, more community organisations will have the opportunity to use the space for their activities.

The core income received from major events and the Welcome Centre café concession fee would allow low cost rental of spaces to organisations which offer community and/or charitable activities. This will return the space to a state described by many during the early consultation process – as an open access and free/low cost venue.

At present there are five major events permitted each year (major events being those that go beyond the curtilage/paved area of the Ross Theatre) in West Princes Street Gardens. Under this definition there are up to 15 event days including Hogmanay, Festival Fireworks, Summer Sessions and Heart and Soul. The proposal is to maintain the status quo in terms of volume of major events as 15 days each calendar year.

The plan for West Princes Street Gardens is in line with both the Parks Manifesto in terms of number of events and has a clearer approach on types and scale of events and activities, contributing to the new Public Spaces Protocol.

Councillor Donald Wilson, Culture and Communities Convener said:

"This is a very important stage in the project to reimagine West Princes Street Gardens.

“The core focus for the business model is on community access and activity by creating and sustaining a space for all in the heart of the city, celebrating nature, reflection, community and performance.

This is a model where big events that involve exclusive access to the gardens are kept to a minimum, but these will make it possible to offer low cost rental of spaces to community or charitable organisations. Crucially, it proposes no more event days than we have at present.

West Princes Street Gardens are open almost every day of the year, with early closure for events, mainly in the evenings, amounting to less than 2% of normal opening times. It is estimated that within the new operating model this would continue. The proposed new access route behind the pavilion is estimated to reduce event set up and takedown times by at least 30%, thus reducing the impact on the gardens."

David Ellis, Managing Director at The Quaich Project, said:

"We’re pleased that the report from the Council on the business case for the future of West Princes Street Gardens has reinforced their commitment to capping the number of days the gardens are used for major events at its current level, which in turn will support year-round community-focussed activities. The design of the Pavilion has been created with community use at the heart and this is reflected in the business case.

Our vision is to improve the entirety of the gardens with a focus on making them a more enjoyable and accessible place for the benefit of Edinburgh residents and visitors all year round."

If councillors approve the report, further public and stakeholder engagement will follow which will inform the planning application. Stage 3 design is due to be completed in March 2020, in line with a planning application due to be submitted by the Ross Development Trust in Spring 2020.

Published: January 22nd 2020