Edinburgh in danger of losing Hogmanay crown

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The Independent Online

For years it has proudly proclaimed itself to be the best New Year venue in the world; the undisputed king of the Hogmanay party boasting bands, fairground rides and fireworks and that tempts thousands of revellers from across the globe to take to Edinburgh's city centre streets.

But, this year, cracks are appearing in the once-untouchable street bash and there are growing concerns that the city could be about to be stripped of its title as Hogmanay heavyweight.

A slump in numbers, a lack of money and a bitter row between organisers and the council are the main factors in a sorry tale which could mean the end of the Scottish capital's legendary end-of-year status.

Those in Edinburgh's corner will point to the sold-out banners on the official website when attempting to defend the city's reputation as party champion.

What the site doesn't boast is that tonight's attendance is capped at 100,000- less than the 180,000 that descended on the city in 2000, and not a patch on the 300,000 that attempted to pack the streets in 1997.

That dangerous peak forced organisers into cordoning off Princes Street, the party's focal point, and charging for tickets. However, numbers have dwindled since then and plans are already afoot to make the event free again, possibly as soon as next year.

The city council is also planning to move part of the evening indoors a proposal that Pete Irvine, the event's mastermind, is strongly against.

The party's outdoor setting makes it particularly vulnerable to the weather and the council is mindful that twice in the last four years the Hogmanay party has been cancelled.

Mr Irvine came out fighting last year after bad weather forced cancellation on the day of the event. He attacked councillors' suggestions that sections of the party be held indoors.

But, should it come down to a face-off between Mr Irvine and the council, the establishment has already shown it isn't afraid of cutting adrift the man who has held the event's contract since 1993.

Mr Irvine was told in August that he would play no part in organising the city's Christmas festival an event he has been involved in since 2000. Instead, the council handed the contract to a Durham company.

And Mr Irvine could lose his beloved New Year's slot too; the council has invited other companies to sample tonight's event before bidding for the contract next year. Mr Irvine has said tonight's event is make-or-break. "The last couple of years have been difficult. A very major part of its future depends on this year."

And if hotel bookings are a barometer of the party's popularity, it could be "break". In previous years, hotels were sold out months in advance. Last week, many still had rooms available and hostels were advertising beds.

One of the main threats to the city's crown is the threat from events in other cities. Glasgow has a relatively successful celebration in the city's George Square. However, with only 15,000 tickets on offer, it is some way off matching the Edinburgh experience.

London, too, is a likely claimant to the party throne. This year it is expecting 350,000 people to celebrate New Year with a huge fireworks display at the London Eye.