The Disneyfication of Edinburgh

Remember that when you arrive into Edinburgh by train you are arriving into a novel, Walter Scott’s Waverley. A new chapter of the city’s own story is a sad and poignant one.

News that Edinburgh Council are considering closing key leisure facilities across the city comes as something called the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG) ‘the umbrella organisation for the tourism sector in Edinburgh’ polls people on what to spend the money generated by the proposed Visitor Levy, a daily charge put on hotel and guesthouse beds very similar to tourism taxes in other European cities.

At the same time this week the story broke that Edinburgh Council are considering closing a raft of facilities across the city, which collectively currently employ 160 people between them. These include outdoor pitches and pitch venues at the Jack Kane Centre in Niddrie, the Meggetland and Saughton Sports Complex’s, Portobello Swim Centre, the Kirkliston Leisure Centre, the leisure facilities at Wester Hailes High School, Gracemount Leisure Centre and Glenogle swimming pool in Stockbridge.

There seemed to be some confusion about whether these closures were planned, or being considered with Council Leader Cammy Day replaying to Tommy Sheppard saying: “Tommy knows this is another made up story from the SNP … no proposals have been made for any closure.”

Edinburgh Live’s reporter Donald Turvill broke the story after a presentation entitled “venue closures” was presented to the board of Edinburgh Leisure – and shared with the Local Democracy Reporting Service – which showed the eight venues listed as part of ‘2024/25 financial planning’. The closures, if they go ahead, would save the city just under £2m.

These two things – the crisis in the city’s funding of basic facilities – and the proposed Visitor Levy (or Tourist Tax) are connected, or they should be anyway. The council are claiming a £3.6m funding shortfall but the Tourist Tax has the estimated potential to generate £37 million annually.

This should be a No Brainer. The tourism industry has fleeced people for decades and the entire city has been turned into a theme park, the cities landlords and private companies have raked in the cash for a very long time while the very infrastructure of the city has been distorted by private greed, its municipal assets undermined and its public facilities spoiled. It’s payback time.

Rather than close down key facilities in working class communities like Niddrie, Saughton, Gracemount or Wester Hailes lets enhance and expand them, and if we only a few years ago spent £5.7 million on a revamp of Glenogle Baths (backed by almost 10,000 people in a petition), how on earth does it make sense to lose this asset?

The announcement of closures, and the attempt to pretend they weren’t happening at all (Edinburgh Leisure changed their position three or four times within 24 hours) represents the total short-termism of the capital city and its complete orientation and dedication to people who don’t actually live here. This dereliction has taken physical manifestation. You can see it in the city’s Central Library, which now has the light in its reading rooms shut-out by the building of the Six Star (6!) Virgin Hotel behind it, or the proliferation of the profitable ‘student accommodation’ which pockmarks the city. Or indeed the St James Quarter with its infamous ‘poo-emoji’ rooftop. Commenting in the London Review of Books, the writer Rory Scothorne notes (‘Edinburgh’s Festivalisation‘): “You can’t buy what Edinburgh has. You can, however, rent out certain kinds of access to it. This … is a recipe for self-destruction. The influx of international capital produces homogenisation, or worse, Disneyfication. The Golden Jobby would disgrace the skyline of any city”.

All this is up for grabs. As no-one really knows who runs Edinburgh – all we know is that the clandestine powers that be are organising to make sure that the Tourist Tax is re-directed back into the hands of the tourist lobby and its associates to carry on the lucrative business strategies they have enjoyed for so long. The Disneyfication must be intensified and the singular economic strategy: mass over-tourism must continue. ‘We simply don’t have the funds for a football pitch in Niddrie’ argue the city-fathers in a town literally drenched in money.

But as the council polls its citizens Edinburgh’s own council leader Cammy Fay has called for the new visitor levy to be introduced to help the city fund its festivals, including this weekend’s loss-making Hogmanay street parties. According to the Guardian’s Severin Carrell (‘Edinburgh council’s leader calls for tourist tax to fund city’s festivals’): “Cammy Day, leader of Edinburgh’s Labour administration, said the proposed visitor levy could help the city raise about £25m in extra funding for services and to subsidise tourism infrastructure.”

It will be interesting to see what the peoples’ response to the poll is, and what impact, if any it has. But Mr Day’s position is incredible. Scotland’s capital is a city on its knees financially, that can’t apparently fund a football pitch or a swimming pool but has an estimated four million visitors per year.

In all the guidebooks and cheap history books you will read the same tale of Edinburgh. How the slum-like Old Town was in stark contrast to the modern New Town with its grid-like formation and Georgian excess. It was a tale of two cities mirrored by the split persona of Deacon Brodie, the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde.

But Edinburgh is as split and separated today as never before. The housing market is grotesquely distorted by the legacy of short term lets and social-cleansing has accelerated in recent years exasperated by the festivalisation of everything and the regulation of nothing. The idea that a Tourist Tax would be diverted back into the hands of the tourism industry itself is so absurd it would be a fitting closing to the story of the city. It would mean that the capital had effectively been captured completely and any effort to halt or slow the process utterly defeated. There would now be a closed-loop of cash circulating through the hands of a rentier class and a handful of business and organisations while the rest of the city’s residents service that industry or languish in the periphery. Edinburgh is a city of great storytelling and literature but that is a grim ending for any story, and one that is a disgrace if it is allowed to be written.


After publication the PR people from Edinburgh leisure were in touch. They denied that these cuts were being considered and pointed us to an updated story from the Edinburgh Reporter which stated:

“The Edinburgh Leisure boss said that a presentation which she had prepared for a board meeting last December, which should have remained confidential, was somehow released, and the information has been used out of context. Ms Peebles said that she imagines the Chair of Edinburgh Leisure, Scott Haldane, will investigate the matter further. Members of the board include councillors and others, and there is a PR protocol binding on all board members that any contact with the press must be referred to the PR department of Edinburgh Leisure or to Ms Peebles.”

I’m not sure that this quote clarifies the matter at all.

They informed us of a memo sent to staff from June Peebles, the head of Edinburgh Leisure which stated:

  • “….some of the reporting is misleading, specifically the references to venue closures. The position is as follows: information was prepared for the Edinburgh Leisure Board to illustrate the extent of the closures to venues and services to address the estimated funding gap in 2024/25.
  • For example the Board were informed that closing / handing back all the pitches to the Council would save approximately £1m however this figure does not include the cost of closure and the costs that would transfer to the Council.
  • “There are currently no plans to close venues, rather I (and the Strategic Leadership Team) continue to work with colleagues at the Council as to how, together, we address the 2024/25 funding challenges.
  • “There is no denying next year’s funding challenges are significant and, understandably, this situation will be unsettling and worrying for many of you. Please be assured I will continue to update you on next year’s budget and ongoing discussions with the Council and do contact me with your questions and/or any points for clarification.

Bella Caledonia remains committed to updating articles containing incorrect material or false information. However none of the main substance of the article seems effected by the updated denial.


Comments (42)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    not long for those of us living in Edinburgh to express our views on the consultation – until the 17th Jan. Someting to do on a chilly Sunday?

    1. Leslie Cunningham says:

      Thank you for the link to the survey, Cathie! I have done it, and asked others to complete it, too.

  2. Leslie Cunningham says:

    What a brilliant article! I am going to send it to other members of Another Edinburgh Is Possible

    1. Allan Armstrong says:

      An excellent discussion and a very good proposal from Leslie about linking a challenge to the Tourist Industry to an activist group, ‘Another Edinburgh is Possible’.

      Mike has brought our attention to this issue on several occasions and pointed to others (e.g. Rory Scorthorne) who have also done so. This needs to provide a basis for action as Leslie a suggests.

      Later John Wood provides evidence of the same domination of the Tourist Industry in the Highlands and Islands. There is a danger, as over so many issues (e.g. transport and language provision), this is diverted into a divisive confrontation between Edinburgh (or other cities) versus the more rural Highlands and Islands and the Borders. The Highlands and Islands have their own impressive activist groups, some based on an advanced community basis, e.g. Eigg Community Trust. We need to fill in the gaps.

      Another Edinburgh is Possible, was formed on the inspiration of:-

      Another Scotland is Possible
      Another Europe is Possible
      Another World is Possible.
      Under today’s horrific global conditions uniting vision with action is all the more necessary.

      Allan Armstrong
      Radical Independence Campaign

      1. Leslie Cunningham says:

        Very well said, Allan!

  3. John says:

    Closing public swimming pools is the definition of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
    Swimming is best non weight bearing excercise for all age ranges, requires l minimal investment in clothing or equipment, is good for mental health and can save lives.
    It is also great for tiring kids out so benefits community and mental health of parents!

    1. Leslie Cunningham says:

      Well said, John!

      1. John says:

        Thanks Leslie – my comment should read best weight bearing excercise. Apologies for typo.

    2. Yeah – as the people of Govanhill who campaigned for teir own baths – and for those in Leith who lost the Water World pools are a democratic space and a community space. I think particularly in Scotland withe long dark winters these indoor leisure centres are completely invaluable.

    3. Wul says:

      Absolutely John!
      Our two kids went to the local council swimming poll every Saturday morning for years. Tired and content for the rest of the day and early to bed. A total (and very cheap) win-win for the whole family.
      My 80+yr old mother is now able to use the local baths to lose weight, get exercise, reduce her need for a new hip operation and boost her mental health following the recent death of her husband (at 92yrs) after 3 years of intensive and draining personal caring for him. Priceless and cheap.

  4. Niemand says:

    Can it really be true that the tourist tax will actually go the tourist industry itself?

    It is so obviously wrong that it is hard to believe.

    Sadly though, I can believe it.

    What a terrible state of affairs that is described.

    Interesting historical perspective too. Is this just a modern manifestation of how the city has always been, what it is in fact founded upon – corruption, back-handers and rich elites? One can say this in many places I am sure, but Edinburgh seems a particular case in point, an exemplar, and still it goes on.

    1. Leslie Cunningham says:

      Indeed, Niemand!

    2. John says:

      Merchant classes, middle class professionals with a lot of old school tie mentality.

  5. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

    Hear! Hear!

    I am not an Edinburgher nor a resident, but on my regular sojourns from the other side of Scotland I have become increasingly dismayed at the growing public squalor alongside private affluence. Tourism is one of Edinburgh’s main ‘industries’. I am certain those who own the accommodation and provide the ‘hospitality’ and other tourism services are making substantial profits and, probably, shipping most of them out of `Edinburgh. So the revenue from the Tourist tax should Edinburgh Council decide to levey it must go for the benefit of the permanent residents of the city and particularly those increasingly reliant on depleted public services and facilities.

    1. Leslie Cunningham says:

      I entirely agree.

  6. Wul says:

    Edinburgh has the highest inbound tourist spending of any UK city other than London, but the Edinburgh Council are saying they can’t afford swimming pools and five-a-side football pitches?

    They are either utterly inept for not being able to extract massive benefits for the citizens of the city itself, or utterly corrupt and think said citizens are stupid. Nothing else makes sense.

    1. The wider question is how is it conceivable to have 80 years of Festivals (s) without any tangible lasting benefit to the people of the city?

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @Wul, when comparing today’s Edinburgh with other European cities, we might reflect that Edinburgh is unusual in not having to be largely rebuilt after war. What effects might that have had? Are there similar city histories from around the world that might offer explanatory parallels?

    3. Margaret MacCusker says:

      Most of the money will be spent on back handers and travel . Not enough money for the road repairs ,house repairs.
      What has happened to bring down a once beautiful city, Greed !!!

  7. John Wood says:

    Yes indeed, and it’s a similar situation in the Highlands, where basic services for locals are cut and money is poured into private pockets via (for example) facilities for cruise ships and exploitative drive-thru ‘safari’ tourism’.

    Sadly in my recent experience, it’s not just tourism: every aspect of Scottish (and UK) public life is now run purely for private profit at public expense. It’s still ‘private affluence and public squalor’. The reason there’s never money for basic public services of any kind is because public services are now just a cash cow for the corrupt. It’s still the rape of the commons, the mentality behind the clearances. Through bullying and corruption, governments, universities, media, civil service, banks, companies, corporations, in fact everything – are bought and sold for the gold of international plutocrats. Some of them meet this month at Davos to do deals and ‘make the world a better place’ for themselves. To them, the entire planet and its people exist only for their personal benefit. ‘You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy’ isn’t a very appealing manifesto.

    We urgently need politicians at all levels who will refuse to submit to all this and stand up for the people who elect them.

  8. Jim Anderson says:

    Unfortunately all too true. The festivals are like a contagious disease, spreading through the city. The university also has a lot to answer for regarding this issue, as they own so much property, a lot of it has been used by Edinburgh based businesses and venues, that end up being turfed out by money cows.

    I’ve given up on the city centre and old town, as somebody who was involved in fringe productions, theatre and music, it is tragic to see this accessible and creative event and space turned to what it is now.

    there just isn’t that organic local structure anymore and the smaller venues and acts aren’t going to be able to support the bloat of the rest of it.

  9. Janis Riddell says:

    I entirely agree with the writer and have thought so for years.

  10. Walter William Leitch says:

    Make all the counselors redundant,you will save a lot of money,and stop them going on fancy trips at tax payers expense.

  11. G Smith says:

    Totally agree. The residents are being charged more for less & less. Meanwhile the city is changed to suit tourists. We no longer have a bus to the city centre. We are supposed to stay in the suburbs leaving our city for the tourists. Our proper shops and facilities are now bars, restaurants, hotels & gift shops. If the City is broken why spend a fortune pedestrianising George Street. This project is not for the residents.
    The Council needs to prioritse maintaining its residential areas for the benefit & good of it’s residents.

  12. Steve Jones says:

    Edinburgh is an amazing city, but it has lost the bohemian charm it once enjoyed, the summer and winter festivals have become commercial and tacky. The city has an unusual identity, a capital within a union, but at times it feels like an annex of London, an obedient possession of the establishment putting on a show. Whatever people think of independence, it would provide Edinburgh with the opportunity to reinvent itself as a real capital city.

  13. Mark Howitt says:

    Agree with all of the above, and, like Cathie (first post), I would encourage everyone living in – or with an interest in – Edinburgh to complete the consultation. However, as the draft legislation currently stands, councils won’t have much choice as to how they apply the proceeds of a Tourist Tax. To quote from the explanatory notes of the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill:

    The objectives of the scheme must relate to developing, supporting or sustaining facilities and services which are substantially for or used by persons visiting the local authority’s area for leisure purposes. By way of example, the objectives of a particular scheme may include the building of a visitor centre and improvement of transport links to an area popular with visitors to the area.

    1. Wul says:

      “The objectives of the scheme must relate to developing, supporting or sustaining facilities and services which are substantially for or used by persons visiting the local authority’s area for leisure purposes. By way of example, the objectives of a particular scheme may include the building of a visitor centre and improvement of transport links to an area popular with visitors to the area.”

      Eh!? Whit!?

      That’s completely bonkers and the exact reverse of what the scheme should be about surely? The income from the Tourist Tax will be used to build “visitor’s centres” (with public money) that remove land and existing facilities from the use of the people who actually live in Edinburgh!?

      The plan is to use the income from the scheme to accelerate the development of more tourist facilities? Madness.

  14. Just to say we have updated the article with a note from Edinburgh Leisure. Thanks.

    1. Kerry Teakle says:

      Thank you

  15. Francesca Richer says:

    Surely the point of visiting Edinburgh is to absorb its cultural and historic pasts. Entertainment for permanent residents is developed by the officers elected to the respective councils, Parish and City!!!

  16. Lyn Williams says:

    Excellent article! Shame on those who seek to rob those who can least afford leisure and who live in the hidden ghettos of our city unvisited by tourists! Shame on those who seek to redirect public funds back into the hands of our leisure Tsars. Shame on those who have sanctioned the eclipse of our public reading room by the dark shadow of global corporations and stolen the opportunity of our impoverished citizens to learn in a place of peace and warmth which can be ill afforded elsewhere in the richest city in Scotland!

  17. George Atkinson says:

    Yawn. Get some real news that’s not all out fiction.

    1. What’s all out fiction George?

  18. Wul says:

    June Peebles said”…I (and the Strategic Leadership Team) continue to work with colleagues at the Council as to how, together, we address the 2024/25 funding challenges.”

    Let me sort that for you June:
    1) Edinburgh City Council grows a spine
    2) Next time someone applies to run a festival event in Edinburgh, you tell them “OK, but you will need to pay very, very dearly, into the public purse, for the privilege of using this “World Class Destination” as your platform. And you squeeze every last drop of cash you can from them.
    3) When someone at a festival pays £6 for a pint, £3 of it goes to the people of Edinburgh. Or no alcohol license will be issued.

  19. Shirley Todd says:

    Edinburgh is building hundreds of student flats, numerous hotels and miles of cycle lanes. They’re popping up everywhere no doubt to squeeze as much money as possible from the wallets of unsuspecting tourists. And as for the tourist tax, are they not screwing tourists enough?!

    1. How do cycle lanes squeeze money out of tourists?

    2. Wul says:

      Nope. They clearly are not “screwing tourist enough”, because last time I visited, you couldn’t even walk on the pavement for the volume of people visiting.
      Like any business, you keep upping the price until the volume of trade becomes manageable. In this case “manageable” means a volume of visitors that still allows local residents to enjoy the amenity of city where they live, where they pay council tax, where they raise families. And there needs to be an “off-season” where things calm down a bit. For sanity and health.
      If you let “The Market” run your city, you will soon be living in a hell-scape.

      Are the tourists paying for the cycle lanes? How does that work?

      1. Also, Visitor Levy’s are commonplace throughout Europe. None of this is new or difficult or radical.

      2. Mark Howitt says:

        “ Like any business, you keep upping the price until the volume of trade becomes manageable.”

        Agreed. Although Scotland’s unique take on this – with the proposed legislation – is upping the price and reinvesting the proceeds in the product to encourage a further increase in the volume of trade.

      3. Niemand says:

        My only concern about this is that what is happening could ultimately mean only rich tourists can afford to visit. That would not be a good outcome.

  20. Michael says:

    Edinburgh started to go downhill the minute the sports pitches started to be sold off. Meggetland had huge swathes of patches and now a handful. Crazy when the benefits especially to kids of sports is so obvious. I coached forv10 years and many of the kids admitted they would have got into bother if it wasn’t for guys like me.
    All part of this wonderful capilist world. Indeed the council know the value of nothing but know the price of everything.

  21. Mark Howitt says:

    Meanwhile in yesterday’s Scotsman:

    ‘Festivals Edinburgh, which represents 11 of the city’s best-known events, has called for “a clear majority” of the proceeds of the [proposed] visitor levy to be ploughed back into the culture, festivals and heritage sectors. It has warned of a risk of “major negative impacts” for the city if its key “assets” are not supported.’ The usual.

    Presumably included in the 11 is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe which last March decided that the best use of the bulk of the UK Government’s £8.6 million’s levelling up fund was to build itself a new HQ.

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