Councillors have been accused of putting a licence for pizza vans ahead of security concerns as a row erupted over the management of the Royal Mile during this year’s Fringe festival.
The City of Edinburgh Council’s Sub-Licensing Committee agreed to allow hot food vans to operate outside the Tron Kirk on the Royal Mile and in Hunter Square during August – despite council officers raising security and public safety concerns.
During this year’s Fringe, security barriers will be pushed back to the junction between the Royal Mile and South Bridge, and the road will be closed to traffic between 10am and 5pm. The hot food vans will be able to operate until 3am every day – and Fringe organisers will now submit revised plans for use of the Royal Mile.
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The plans for the stalls were agreed despite council officers highlighting “long-standing concerns regarding overcrowding”.
Cllr Scott Arthur said: “I think there’s real concerns around public safety. I don’t think we can support this at all.”
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Arthur added: “The security of the world-famous Royal Mile festival experience has been put at risk for the sake of a pizza van licence.”
Ward Cllr Karen Doran also hit out at the decision.
She said: “I am very, very disappointed that this has been granted. As a local councillor, I’m aware of the great difficulty of having these food vans in place during the festival time.
“It is detriment to the area and to the festival experience in the Royal Mile.”
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Officers pointed out concerns following a memo from the authority’s director of place around safety issues and overcrowding on pavements.
Regulatory services manager, Andrew Mitchell, said: “The council has a long-standing policy that the street trading operations are suspended in August.
“These are competing applications for that space. The department reiterates its concerns that this application is beyond council policy.
“Getting from A to B, the view of the department is that at peak times, it’s practically impossible and having stalls there will simply make that worse.”
John McNeill, senior public safety officer, said: “We are trying to mitigate against vehicle attacks – any crowded place should be protected.
“Whoever gets this space will have to manage the barriers. We recognise that over the last few years, this area has been getting busier. Last year, there was still a dangerous mix of pedestrians and vehicles on Cockburn Street.”
Cllr Gavin Barrie said the thought of giving permission to the Fringe and not the food traders gave him a “horrible feeling”.
He added: “The Fringe, who I dearly love, can be seen as the big boys pushing out the little boys.
“I believe that this is right and proper. I think this adds something to our city and I think we can safely grant it.”
Convener of the Sub-Licensing Committee, Cllr Cathy Fullerton proposed that both applications should be granted.
She said: “To me, it could appear that big businesses are squeezing out smaller ones.
“We don’t have any police objections. I see no reason why the two applications couldn’t work together successfully.”
A spokesman from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: “Our application to the City of Edinburgh Council includes a proposed extension of our footprint to include Hunter Square and a pedestrianised intersection with Cockburn Street, and this will now be considered by the Licensing Sub-Committee of the Regulatory Committee on June 11.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment further until the committee has an opportunity to consider our application in full.”