Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh's Christmas: Organisers' 'threat' to cancel the event

Christmas market Image copyright Underbelly
Image caption Edinburgh's Christmas market was held without planning consent

The organisers of Edinburgh's Christmas and Hogmanay threatened to cancel the event 10 days before it opened amid a row with council officials.

Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Edinburgh Evening News show strain between Underbelly and the council.

The council's Paul Lawrence said emails from Underbelly director Charlie Wood came "across as threats".

Mr Wood apologised and said he "wanted to give the reality of the situation".

At the time there were calls for the market to be moved to another location in the city after complaints it was taking over and damaging the city centre park.

The market was also held this year without planning permission and safety fears emerged on social media after pictures were posted on Twitter showing scaffolding on a steep slope holding up a platform that would house the market in Princes Street Gardens.

A building warrant was obtained on the day the Christmas market opened but planning permission is still yet to be obtained retrospectively.

Underbelly raised the prospect of possible cancellation of the events during correspondence in May, June and November.

In November, Mr Wood asked Mr Lawrence to "help" him deal with concerns raised by council officials over the impact of market stalls on trees in the gardens.

Image caption The scaffolding was balanced on a steep slope

In an email sent on 6 November, one council officer told Underbelly: "We are concerned about the impact of the structures which sit south of the Scott Monument and adjacent to the middle path.

"It appears that if sheds are constructed on top of the platforms, that these could damage the trees. These are protected trees."

In an email to Mr Lawrence, Mr Wood dismissed the issues raised by officers and said Underbelly had "no option but to build them".

In another email to Mr Wood from David Givan, City of Edinburgh Council's service manager, he said: "Until I have conducted this review, I urge you very strongly not to undertake the construction of any sheds on the in the area to the south of the Scott Monument as described in my email below. I must ensure that there is no damage to the trees."

Mr Wood then said his team were feeling under a lot of pressure due to "the negativity" they were facing.

He said: "Paul: Ed and I have spent the last couple of days in Edinburgh with the team to boost morale and to be absolutely candid with you, spirits are at rock bottom and many people (key people) are at breaking point.

"We urgently need the council's support or there is a real risk of no event and no Hogmanay."

Amy McNeese-Meechan, culture and communities vice convener said: "As this correspondence makes clear, the council's main priority here is, and always has been, public safety and protecting our much-loved gardens while still delivering the Christmas festivities.

"Our actions were designed to achieve a successful and safe event despite the challenging external pressures, as per the terms of the contract with the event organiser to deliver Winter Festivals".

Image copyright Serena Field
Image caption A huge scaffolding structure was built to house the Christmas market in East Princes Street Gardens

The emails also reveal concerns from Mr Givan over the safety of the scaffolding structure.

He wrote: "From what we have seen from photographs on social media it appears that (at least some of) the scaffolding support structure has not been constructed in accordance with the warrant drawings.

"In particular, these drawings show timber sleepers of 100x200mm sections while the photographs we have seen show scaffolding planks which appear to be approximately 50mm thick."

The market is expected to remain in Princes Street Gardens for the next two years.

Officials said it would use feedback from a public consultation, held later in the year, for ideas on a new site.

A council spokesperson said: "There was an ongoing dialogue between the department and the applicant to make sure the structures were safe and fully compliant before the market opened to the public. Any concerns raised were fully checked and actioned as part of this process.

An Underbelly spokeswoman said: "Safety is always Underbelly's first priority.

"The structure in East Princes Street Gardens was built and completed in accordance with its specification, and as agreed with the council's engineers and Underbelly's independent engineers, and received a building warrant in the proper manner."

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