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A Christmas Anomaly

Posted on 28 Oct 2019 by Lucy

The Cockburn has discovered that the Christmas Market currently under construction in East Princes Street Gardens does not have planning permission. A huge "space deck" to take an expanded market development has caused substantial controversy and increased concerns about the suitability of the gardens for such events as well as the ever-increasing creep of commercialisation in Edinburgh's public parks.

The expanded Christmas Market in East Princes Street Gardens has been receiving significant levels of criticism.  Underbelly, who are contracted by the City Council to deliver the Hogmanay and Christmas events, lease the site from the Council.  The scale and intrusiveness of the “space deck” being erected is so large that the Cockburn asked the Chief Planning Officer on 23 October if it required planning consent. In a response 2 days letter, he said,

I can confirm that the current construction of the Christmas market requires planning permission, and, to date, no such application has been received. The previous consent expired in 2018.

Underbelly, who leases the land from the Council, was informed in August that planning permission would be needed. I received an email from Underbelly on Wednesday confirming that they intend to submit for planning permission, but this is unlikely to be done until the week beginning 11 November. As such, it is unlikely that the Development Management Sub-Committee would be able to determine the application before the Christmas holidays. Any application will be assessed against the statutory requirements in the Planning Acts and any other material planning considerations.

In the meantime, we have opened an enforcement file to monitor the situation.”

The Chairman of the Association, Professor Cliff Hague, has suggested that a Temporary Stop Order be served to address this blatant breach of planning control.

It is extraordinary that Underbelly, who had their contract with the City Council extended for a further 2 years by a senior Council officer under delegated powers, have erected such a massive structure without consent despite being told so months ago that permission was required.  It is even more extraordinary that any consent (if an application is received) wouldn’t be considered until after the Christmas break anyway!  Ignorance cannot be a defence – only arrogance and a belief that no action will be taken by the Council as it is hopelessly conflicted by being the financial beneficiary of the lease and being the client body who has contracted with Underbelly in the first place.

In a further twist, the Cockburn can report that any license for a Food and Drink operations – a key component of the Christmas Market - requires a license.  Section 50 of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 states that a premises licence application must be accompanied by—
(a)a planning certificate,
(b)a building standards certificate, and
(c)if food is to be supplied on the premises, a food hygiene certificate, in respect of the subject premises.

On 25 June 2019, the Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee granted a street vendors temporary license to Underbelly.  How it did so without a valid planning permission, against the statutory requirements of the relevant legislation is a mystery.  The Cockburn has asked for clarification on how this happened.  Furthermore, it begs the question, is the license valid as it clearly cannot comply with the requirements?

The Cockburn recognises the value to the City of such events such as the Christmas Market but has significant concerns about creep of commercialisation in our public parks and places. The structure erected here is so grossly out of keeping with the character of the gardens, that it destroys the character of the city which the operators are trying to exploit.

If you are concerned about this, we would advise that you write to your local Councillors and make your views known.