Graffiti summit brings together key voices from across the city

Photograph showing a wall covered in graffiti on the right and a man on the right cleaning the graffiti with a power washer

Key stakeholders from across Edinburgh have come together to address the issue of graffiti in the Capital.

The graffiti summit held on Thursday (18 January) was chaired by Council Leader Cammy Day and included representatives from Police Scotland, parliamentarians, business leaders, heritage organisations, residents’ groups and members of the street art community, as well as local elected members and the Council’s street cleansing team.

Participants in the round-table event discussed the current picture across the city and the Council’s role tackling graffiti on public land, though acknowledged that the vast majority of graffiti is on private property. Key to the debate was the difference between vandalism and street art, and how ‘tolerance zones’ and murals like Colinton Tunnel and Marine Parade could be part of the answer.

Potential solutions considered at the summit are the provision of a specialised graffiti removal service provided by the Council for city stakeholders and property owners, funded by the Council and private landowners, and sharing Council data with the police. Participants also discussed the impact of graffiti, and its removal, on historical buildings and structures.

Councillors and officers will now consider options for expanding the Council’s graffiti removal service in partnership with Police Scotland, heritage groups and community representatives before reconvening the wider group to discuss next steps.

Councillor Scott Arthur, Transport and Environment Convener, said:

I’m really grateful to all the people who came along to the graffiti summit. It’s clear from our discussions that we all share the same aim – we want to be proud of the city we live in and for people who come here to love it as much as we do.

It’s clear from speaking to people today that there’s a real spectrum of ‘graffiti’, from formal murals like Colinton Tunnel which have the consent and support of the community, through to offensive tags. I know many of the complaints we receive are about the latter.

One of the key outcomes today was to work with both the private and public sector to solve this problem, whether that’s sharing data with the police to help them to identify the extent of the problem or working with stakeholders to provide an enhanced service.

This adds to the £0.75m investment we’ve already made this year, which is allowing our excellent cleansing and graffiti teams to use specialist vehicles to focus on removing graffiti from public buildings and infrastructure, as well as power washing areas such as streets, pavements and steps which need it most.

Liz McAreavey, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said:

I came along to the graffiti summit to find out more about what’s happening across the city and was really interested to learn about the differing perceptions of graffiti. There’s clearly a vast difference between graffiti as street art and as vandalism.

When street art is approved and in an agreed space it’s an opportunity for young artists and I think harnessing that could potentially be a good way of reducing the incidence of vandalism and recognising young talent.

Today I wanted to get a better understanding of how much of a problem this is for the city, the strategies in place and how the private sector can contribute. It’s very much a ‘Team Edinburgh’ approach. This isn’t something that can be solved overnight but we need outcomes that will support the visitor experience, support the private sector who are having to deal with this and understanding the value that creative street art can bring to the city as well.

Ross Blair, Founder and Creative Director of creative agency TrenchOne Industries, said:

We were really happy to be invited to the summit, and we welcomed the discussion with all the partners. I think there needs to be education across the board about what constitutes graffiti. People use graffiti as a catch-all term that covers vandalism, tags, murals and art on walls, but it’s more nuanced than that.

We’re getting some great talent in the city and I think we should be celebrating that. We should focus on young people, educating them and encouraging them to become artists. It’s about having inclusive discussions, between all council areas, local groups, artists and other stakeholders to understand different points of view.

The Council recently invested £0.75m to give the Capital a deeper clean and enhance its graffiti task force, all with the aim of improving the look and feel of Edinburgh’s streets.

The dedicated graffiti task force is on street daily, using specialist vehicles with fully trained operators to power wash landmarks such as the Scotsman Steps, closes in the Old Town and other priority areas across the city.

Published: January 19th 2024