Did you know that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world? In 2014, it staged nearly 50,000 performances of 3193 shows in 299 venues over 25 days, and welcomed over 25,000 participants from 51 countries. It issued over 2 million tickets, offered 607 free shows, and in 2017 it will celebrate its 70th anniversary.
As you can probably imagine, the fight for accommodation over this period is fierce: artists and performers are not booked to attend by the Fringe Society, and many undertake the festival knowing the risks and financial burdens. Lyndsey Jackson, head of operations for the Fringe, worried that 'other festivals provide a more affordable experience for participants' and forecasted 'a decline in our registration as a result of prohibtive coss outside our control.'
To counter this, the Fringe are now collaborating with student accommodation company Unite, who want to build a 579-bed development on St Leonard's Street in Edinburgh. The proposal - worth £30 million - would also include a new doctor's surgery, and help to tackle the 'pressing shortage' of affordable accommodation during the festival period.
Jagdeep Bhogal, design and planning director at Unite Students, stated that they are working together 'to provide a long-term agreement to take bookings at a discounted rate at St Leonard's and other accommodation in Edinburgh. Edinburgh's summer festivals are the world's biggest and best, and Unite is delighted to be the first student housing provider to deliver a partnership with the Fringe.' Unite, the UK's largest student accommodation provider, now has 659 student places in the city.
Yet not everyone is delighted with the proposals - many locals claim that the development will push the student population in the area beyond 60%, and risk ruining the community spirit. Council policy apparently stipulates that only 30% of the population in any given area should be students, but then the project is all the more lucrative for its location: the development is less than a kilometre from the main Teviot campus, and yards away from another 240-bed student accommodation site in the former Lutton Court Business Centre, on Bernard Terrace.
Councillor Eric Milligan argued that, 'we are charged with looking after this city. We want international appeal and we want to attract high-achieving young people. A lot of them will come and go but some of them might stay and they make a real economic impact.' He also criticized those who opposed the plans: 'I am frustrated by the grumbles and negativity we have heard, but I am enormously proud of our educational institutions - and the sooner we change our policy the better it will be.'
Who knows, such a conflict might make a great plot line - and we might just see a show about it next year.