Greener festival, greener city

A Green Festival City is a great Festival City, argues Alex Staniforth.

Every August Edinburgh welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors to its world-famous festivals . Events on this scale will always have their sceptics, but a poll in 2015 showed that 89% of local festivalgoers thought the festivals increased people’s pride in Edinburgh as a city. I agree with them and would never want to see Edinburgh lose its place as the world’s premier festival city. It is a part of what makes Edinburgh so special.

This year, however, there have been several understandable complaints about the festivals. From the danger of overcrowded pavements leading to pedestrians forced to walk along busy roads to the view of the castle above Princes Street Gardens and the gardens themselves being blocked to ordinary people for the sake of expensive music gigs. More and more, it seems, the discussion is about ‘over-tourism’ in Edinburgh.

I don’t believe Edinburgh is getting more tourists than it can handle, even in August. I do believe Edinburgh is getting more tourists than a city dedicated to the car can handle. If pavements were wider and more parts of the city pedestrianised then there would be both no overcrowding and no danger of falling off a pavement and into the path of an oncoming vehicle. If the roads were closed instead of the pavement we could all enjoy the view of the gardens and the castle at any time – even while they play host to big-name musicians.

In other words, a greener festival, from a transport point of view, would also make for a calmer and safer city centre, for both residents and visitors.

It isn’t just in putting pedestrians over motorists in the city centre where Green values can make for better festivals. Our belief that local governments should have the choice to raise local taxes – including a Transient Visitor Levy or ‘tourist tax’ – would allow the city to recoup directly the infrastructure cost of the extra bins and waste collections, crowd control and general wear and tear that occurs during festival time. That is why we have lunched a petition to allow people to express their backing:

And our vision of houses and flats being run for the benefit of those who live in them – not the benefit of landlords – would put an end to the excess of Short Term Lets which have left some city centre residents as the lone person living on a ‘party stair’.

A sustainable city run for the benefit of its citizens rather than landlords and corporations could easily continue to be the world’s premier festival city for another 70 years. I believe that vision is not just possible, but a necessity, and over the remainder of this term I and my fellow Green councillors will continue to push the council to making it a reality.

Cllr Alex Staniforth is Green spokesperson on culture and communities