Edinburgh City Council is set to take a “more relaxed approach” to planning enforcement of the capital’s festivals.
Councillors are being asked to approve plans which will allow planning officers to be more lenient during the summer festivals.
Edinburgh City Council has previously faced heavy criticism for its planning enforcement of the city’s festivals, particularly the Christmas Markets in 2019, which went ahead despite not having planning permission, and which caused £150,000 of damage to Princes Street Gardens.
If the proposals are approved, festival organisers will not need permission for the use of a new space for up to 28 days, excluding the erection and removal of any structures, and where that use is not similar to an existing, nearby business.
The same rule will apply to the city’s public green spaces. Similarly, individual structures smaller than 3,500m-squared will not be subject to planning enforcement.
A report, set to go before councillors at the council’s planning committee on May 19, reads: “The Edinburgh Festivals are key to the city’s international reputation, its economy and its recovery.
“Festivals were not held during 2020 as a result of the coronavirus emergency.
“In 2018, festivals contributed £280m to the local economy.
“The Scottish Government’s chief planner has written to planning authorities in Scotland to encourage a relaxation of planning control, through not taking enforcement action, in a range of circumstances to help businesses and services diversify and continue to operate within our communities during the pandemic.
“Operators have been exploring options for how the summer festivals could be held in 2021 on a limited basis and subject to Scottish Government public health guidelines.
“The timescales for preparing and determining applications, coupled with the uncertainties over what public health requirements will be in place when the festivals will be held mean that it is difficult for the festivals to plan.
“If planning applications are required, the timescales are such that it could stop the reintroduction of core elements of the summer festivals this year, for example the Edinburgh International Festival.”
Edinburgh’s festivals have previously brought high numbers and concentrations of people to the city. In 2018 attendance at major festivals was 4,604,520.
According to council officers, the summer festivals create thousands of seasonal jobs during July and August as well as supporting hundreds of full-time roles.
The report further states that the festivals’ attendees have contributed £280m to the local economy and the 11 Edinburgh Festivals have together delivered £313m to the Scottish economy.
There are currently three proposals for the summer festivals, which under the council’s current planning guidelines would need planning permission, but would now be free to go councillors approve the relaxation of planning enforcement.
Edinburgh International Festival is planning two tents, a 100m by 30m structure in Edinburgh Park, and a 55m by 20m structure in the Old College Quadrangle, while the Edinburgh Tattoo is planning on constructing small stands.
Story by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson