Edinburgh venue to lose most of its Fringe spaces

‘Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms will host a lot fewer Fringe shows after the council rubber-stamped a controversial £9million refit, including the loss of several theatre spaces.

More than 7,700 had people signed a petition against Edinburgh City Council’s plans, which were given the green light yesterday after less than an hour’s debate.

The 300-year-old building will now be closed for 18 months, while the downstairs is converted into three shops at the front and an upmarket restaurant at the back. It will mean the permanent loss of the spaces known as the Edinburgh Suite, the Supper Room, the Wildman Room, the West Drawing Room and the private club bar from future Fringes.

Sandy Ross, a director of the Assembly Theatre which has taken over the council-owned venue for the last 30 summers, said: ‘We believe the proposals will fundamentally alter the nature of the Assembly Rooms.’

The company proposed its own plan to improve the building and run it on a year round basis, which it said would be cheaper and require no ongoing council subsidy.

But councillor Deidre Brock, the city's culture and leisure leader, said the new plans marked ‘an exciting new chapter’ for the venue – and claimed the theatre ran a ‘dangerously misleading’ campaign.

Outside of the festival, the venue is used for little more than craft fairs, ceilidhs, record fairs, and the occasional wedding. The council hopes the refit will increase the revenue.

Jamie Oliver is understood be ‘very interested’ in opening a new restaurant at the back of the new venue.

The plans have clear one final hurdle: approval by Historic Scotland. But the body says it does not have any strong concerns about the plans.

Published: 17 Dec 2010

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