A CAMPAIGN to "reimagine" Scotland's capital has gained new impetus in the wake of a row over how the UK's biggest new year street party is being organised and concern the appetite to attract tourism is reducing the city to a "theme park".

Edinburgh was welcoming tens of thousands of people for this year's Hogmanay celebrations amidst criticism of the organisers of the three-day event, Underbelly, for creating "unnecessary confusion" for residents in the affected area, who were to need passes to access their homes during the night.

The celebrations "hosted by" Johnnie Walker whisky feature performances by Mark Ronson, Marc Almond and Idlewild and culminate with the traditional firework display.

But there was growing concern that residents were required to apply for wristbands to access their own homes, with a potential limit to numbers.

READ MORE: Issue of the day - Hogmanay

On their website, Underbelly had stated that residents would be "entitled to receive up to six resident passes" and a "reasonable number of additional access passes may be issued".

Underbelly co-founder and director Ed Bartlam slammed criticism of the access process for residents during the Hogmanay street party as a "red herring and a mis-truth".

But the Underbelly Hogmanay "fiasco" has been leapt on by the newly formed Citizen group, which aims to promote community-led development to defend the city against unwelcome development which said it is to take action next year through a series of events "bringing people together who want to reclaim and reimagine the city".

HeraldScotland:

It said that since the latest controversy, they have been inundated with hundreds of requests from people to join.

In a message to supporters, Mike Small, of Citizen, who has said Hogmanay has become a "hollowed-out cultural experience" with Edinburgh "reduced to a theme park" says the latest issues are not new.

And he said: "Hogmanay is a time for New Year’s resolutions, ours is let’s reclaim our city from hidden networks and businesses carving up Edinburgh for profit."

Last year Underbelly was forced to defended the revival of a controversial volunteering scheme, which saw those taking part get volunteer certificates.

There was further concern this year when a giant Christmas tree was felled on the Mound and a neighbouring nativity sculpture was removed and replaced with a series of Johnnie Walker figures, which features on bottles of the whisky. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh said it was "disappointed" at the move.

READ MORE: Edinburgh gets set for Hogmanay celebrations

Last month, Edinburgh's council leader ordered urgent action after memorial benches were moved and piled up to make way for the capital’s Christmas market. The benches were dumped at the edge of the market in East Princes Street Gardens.

They are understood to cost thousands of pounds and families donate them to the park in memory of loved ones.

Christmas market operator Underbelly said they were handled respectfully.

The Edinburgh Hotels Association has also said it wants an urgent rethink of how the city is promoted globally in the wake of the row over the Hogmanay event and the Christmas festival.

The Christmas market, which is also run by Underbelly and has taken over an expanded site across Princes Street Gardens for its six-week run, attracting about 100,000 visitors a day, has already been the source of controversy this year.

Edinburgh World Heritage, the organisation charged with protecting the city's status as a Unesco site, said it should be scaled back, saying it “clearly disrupts this magnificent environment to a very great extent”.

There has been further criticism on social media over the £12 charge - including a £2 booking fee - to take part in the annual New Year's Day Loony Dook n which people dive into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth at South Queensferry, often in fancy dress.

HeraldScotland:

The registration fee was introduced when it became part of the Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival from 2011. The fee originally £6 was introduced to cover the cost of organisation and stewarding.

It was raised to £10 in 2016 and is now £12 with an amount from every ticket going to the RNLI.

The festive fiasco has highlighted wider worries about the city's direction, which stretches to concerns over holiday lettings in Edinburgh, as Airbnb lets alone have doubled to 12,000 since 2016. The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, among other groups, has drawn attention to the loss of community around the Royal Mile and Old Town as residents have moved out.

In the summer, Edinburgh fringe director Shona McCarthy has said the festival is “seriously in danger of being anti-tourist”, describing the suggestion that the fringe itself was contributing to excessive tourism as weird.

But Mr Bartlam of Underbelly has accused critics of taking advantage of the controversy to make a political point.

He said: "This whole issue is a bit of a red herring and a mis-truth. This event has never prevented residents coming to their own properties.

"There has been a system in place which was a system created by the council and the previous operator of the contract years ago which obviously meant that residents that lived within the event arena had to have a wristband, as many as they needed for their household and that continues and now no-one is prevented from getting access.

"There is a wider conversation going on in Edinburgh at the moment around the impact of festivals and the vast majority of people in Edinburgh understand the cultural, social and economic benefit of amazing festivals like Hogmanay.

"There are some that feel that there are too many of these and are potentially using some suggestions of residents not being allowed access which is untrue as a way of pushing that view."

Mr Bartlam added that only nine people had contacted Underbelly worried about a potential lack of passes, and claimed Hogmanay brings nearly £40m to the city in economic benefit.

He said: "Everyone can get a pass for the number of people in their property or people they want to have."

The organisers have, however, acknowledged there had been "misunderstandings" and rewrote website guidance following the backlash, which now reads: "If you are planning a private function within your home or you are entertaining guests or you have a household larger than six, additional access passes are available."

Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey said the event had been affected by "poor communication", adding: "It is unacceptable that the guidance for residents didn't accurately reflect this, creating unnecessary confusion."

 

 


Mike Small of the Citizen Network, an Edinburgh-based campaign organisation aiming to transform the capital into “a place for people rather than profit” told supporters in his latest blog of how the Hogmanay 'fiasco' had provided a boost to its campaign.  Here are the highlights.


Hogmanay is a time for New Year’s Resolutions, ours is let’s reclaim our city from hidden networks and businesses carving up Edinburgh for profit.
The Underbelly Hogmanay fiasco goes on and on.


First of all we have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people registering with Citizen after the latest Underbelly debacle. We can’t respond individually but every single one of you will be contacted in the New Year about our events and how to get involved. There are hundreds and hundreds of you. It feels like a dam has burst and I don’t quite know why, or why now.


We completely support the call from Councillor Mandy Watt who said: “They (Underbelly) are not fit to have the contract and it should be brought back in-house. The council should consider breaking up the contract into manageable pieces and let local traders and communities run Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay.”
 

We’ve been saying this for a very long time.
Back in September we published this outlining some possible criteria for how we should or could commission groups to put on events in winter and at New Year. It’s called ‘Reimagining Christmas’.
Now – in the wake of all this – Underbelly seem to be spinning desperately. At first it was all fine, then it was  that this had been the arrangement for years, now it’s all a terrible misunderstanding.

 

The reality is that this is not about one incident but the whole relationship between the city its residents and this company- and the widespread resentment that they are completely unregulated and given far too much power.
Why should one private company be in charge of entire cultural experiences?

HeraldScotland: Fireworks light up the sky in Edinburgh during the Hogmanay New Year celebrations.
 

One of the key unanswered questions is what is the process by which this company secures long term contracts with the city to provide events which many people believe are poorly managed and badly conceived?
Secondly how is it possible to be both in receipt of public funding and simultaneously claiming that you won’t reveal your profits for commercial confidentiality?

 

That stinks.
It’s more “Follow the Cash Cow” than “Follow the Cow”.
Since the latest controversy Citizen has been inundated with hundreds of requests from people to join up.
Citizen is a network of people working to re-imagine the city as a sustainable place for people to live in, not just a space for consumption and profit.

 

Next year we’ll be hosting a series of events bringing people together who want to reclaim and reimagine the city.