PROS AND CONS OF BANDSTAND SCHEME
It’s now just over a week since we reported here the launch of a design competition for a new Ross Bandstand in West Princes Street Gardens.
Readers’ reactions were overwhelmingly sceptical if not downright hostile.
But are we judging the Ross Development Trust’s ambitions for the site prematurely?
We've spent the days since mulling over the scheme, and trying to judge which aspects of the proposals appeal and which alarm. The quotes below in bold are all taken from RDT’s website. Our reactions follow underneath.
‘This initiative is focused on one of Scotland’s most sensitive and high-profile sites so the protection of the Gardens is essential; returning space to garden use is a core objective and is a key theme within the design brief for the architectural design competition.’
Exactly. Well put.
‘It is important to remember that the Bandstand is located within a garden. The existing building comprises a large concrete seating area attached to the Bandstand, which acts as a barrier to public movement and is virtually unused within West Princes Street Gardens. The aim is to remove this completely and return the area to a garden landscape. This will open up the whole of the Gardens to visitors and create a new sense of place for what is intended to be an emblematic Pavilion.’
‘The replacement building needs to make a statement that Edinburgh not only has an historic and traditional image but is a modern and vibrant City. Additionally, the protection of the Gardens is a key element in any proposal and the more space returned to garden use is a clear objective.’
OK. Don’t mind that one jot.
‘The new building needs to communicate that Edinburgh’s appeal lies not only in its historic and traditional aspects but also in its contemporary energies. Edinburgh is a vibrant and creative City that is hugely attractive to young people.’
Well, yes. But there’s a time and a place for ‘contemporary energies’. The young people who enjoy quietly sitting here in the sunshine – chatting, smoking, snogging, picking fluff out of each other’s navels – have as much right as anyone else not to be disturbed by, for example, noisy OAPs head-banging along to Black Sabbath tribute bands.
‘To achieve international acclaim, the replacement structure needs to present an internationally recognisable image, and with a modern cutting edge design where quality is at the forefront.’
Well, fair enough, so long as it's not too pushy and attention-seeking.
‘The [proposed] building not only acts as an anchor for major events throughout the city, but can be used to complement the events on offer at the EICC, Assembly Rooms, and other venues within the City. It provides a focal point for a unified City-wide entertainment and exhibition offer.’
Hang on, a minute. I thought we just agreed that the site sits within a garden. How can it respectfully sit within a garden AND be ‘an anchor for major events’?
‘The building needs to generate an appetite by residents and visitors alike, to visit the city centre, and to increase footfall to encourage the enhancement of the city centre retail offer.’
The city centre already generates an appetite. How many more ravening hordes do we need here? Don’t we risk spoiling a green and tranquil space in order to gratify business? How about sharing Edinburgh's attractions and their benefits across other parts of the capital?
‘The commercial benefits highlight Edinburgh as a destination of choice, increase employment, and provide substantial opportunities to increase city revenues.’
Oh, here we go. First, Edinburgh is already a destination of choice for everyone who comes here on purpose. Second, exactly how much employment will it generate? Go on, put a figure on it. Third: increase city revenues? So is this all about paying for the trams?
‘It will broaden the demographic profile of those who visit the gardens and widen social inclusion.’
The gardens are already open to everyone who wants to treat them as gardens. There are other places where everyone can attend major events. Is mention of ‘social inclusion’ simply a way to dismiss critics as elitist?
Something we did not make clear in Thursday’s report (because it wasn’t clear to us at the time), is that the proposed ‘multi-level visitor centre’ for the Gardens would not necessarily be part of the new Bandstand.
It could instead be a separate structure with a viewing gallery on its roof and lift access to Princes Street.
We imagine this would require excavating part of the bank.
The viewing gallery would provide ‘stunning views of the Castle’, says RDT. Views which can already be had from just about anywhere else in the area.
Perhaps the beneficial effects of increased footfall on business would be more easily achieved if people brought in their food and drink from neighbouring streets.
Under this heading, RDT includes resurfacing of the blaes area to improve the facilities here. This doesn’t mean ‘returning space to garden use’ by planting grass. Hard-standing will remain.
Improved ‘discreet lighting’ is envisaged, with a view to making the environment safe after dusk.
Signage and wayfinding will be reviewed.
A new road bridge (access to King’s Stables Road) with a 44t weight limit ‘is essential to allow building works to be carried out on the new Bandstand’ and to allow servicing of it.
It would also, we fear, allow a substantial crane to enter the Gardens and erect 'amusements' on the new, improved hard standing – although whether the ground itself would support the weight is another matter.
GOOD OR BAD?
With the possible exception of the visitor centre, which some may feel is unnecessary, none of these proposals is intrinsically bad.
Imaginatively designed in sympathy with their surroundings, they could improve this civic amenity. Spurtle is not against a better performance space here.
The ‘danger’ lies in the scale at which these proposals are realised and the extent to which they are then used or over-used afterwards.
If Events here could be restricted to current levels during the day, thus minimising their impact on peaceful uses and enjoyment, we would have fewer qualms.
However, at this stage, we’re very doubtful the Council could resist the temptation to grow footfall and maximise revenue. With an extra 5,000 people repeatedly standing on the same areas of grass at the same time, the likely result would be not only less garden in the truest sense, but substantially more mud for city residents to endure.
We've seen what happened on St Andrew Square. We've seen the tattie field at the other end of Princes Street (below). We're now very much afraid that West Princes Street Gardens are heading down the same slippery slope.
Dominic Berry The proposal starts off quite reasonably, with the return of the concrete seating area to garden landscape, but then the mask slips. The rest of the centre of Edinburgh is a place for events, eating and drinking, vibrancy, heavy footfall, contemporary energies, entertainment, retail etc. The whole point of Princes Street gardens is that it is an escape from these things.
Dominic Berry Bandstands in public parks are supposed to look like this (below), and they do not cost £25 million. I think this bandstand would look superb where the Ross Bandstand is now, and there would be no need for the concrete seating.
Elaine Hutton These do look very pretty. But it's probably not very practical for the sort of entertainment that people want these days.
Dominic Berry In parks in other cities, bands in bandstands play light music. Why is this not suitable for Edinburgh?
Elaine Hutton I can't imagine the Flaming Lips being able to play there.Dominic Berry Never heard of them, so I have just googled them. No, I agree, Princes Street gardens is not the right venue for that sort of thing.
Elaine Hutton A wee bandstand isn't ideal for Flaming Lips, but the Ross Theatre would be.
Dominic Berry And that is exactly why the construction of a new Ross Theatre should be opposed. Because there would then be pressure to turn Princes Street gardens into Glastonbury (which I see is where Flaming Lips regularly perform)
Elaine Hutton It shouldn't be turned into Glastonbury and I am sure the majority would oppose having a music festival in the Gardens . But it would be good to have somewhere for occasional concerts such as the Flaming Lips. The dancing in the evenings in summer was always popular and it would be great if they could have kids concerts on too, like they used to.
Euan MacGuzzi McGlynn Just another vanity project ignoring the local population and their needs.
Moray Allan The visitor centre part sounds the most worrying (though the rest could turn out bad depending on the design and use). With the claim that it is to help access, by providing level entry to a lift, it sounds likely to be proposed as a cafe/shop block facing onto the south side of Princes St, with the roof terrace at first floor level.
See also David Young, 'Misplaced intents', in Letters (20.2.17).