CONCERNS have been raised about the removal of public parking spaces, during North Berwick’s “busiest time of the year”, to facilitate next month’s Fringe by the Sea festival.

Founded in 2008, Fringe by the Sea (FBTS) has brought some of the top names in music, comedy and literature to Spiegeltents in the harbour area but last year’s extravaganza had to be cancelled due to coronavirus.

A new-look festival returns this year, from August 6 to 15, with more than 200 events, including appearances by Lulu, Basement Jaxx, Eddi Reader, Irvine Welsh, Ed Byrne, Reginald D Hunter and Janey Godley – plus many community activities and a streetfood market – by utilising more venues and open spaces throughout the town for public health reasons.

This includes having one of the main entertainment venues, the Belhaven Big Top – and an environment and conservation-focused Environzone – in the town’s Lodge Grounds.

Because of this, it was announced there would be no parking for the duration of the festival on the eastbound carriageway of nearby St Baldred’s Road and St Baldred’s Crescent; also, there would be no public car parking spaces available in the library/Coastal Communities Museum car park on School Road, as that space is the temporary home of the festival’s Glenkinchie Lowland Stage.

North Berwick Community Council (NBCC)  told the Courier it had written to East Lothian Council and FBTS organisers “to express our disappointment at the way certain aspects of the event organisation have been handled and, in particular, notifying near neighbours of what was going on”.

The community council was concerned at the impact the move would have on users of the health centre on St Baldred’s Road, particularly disabled people.

Judy Lockhart-Hunter, NBCC chair, said: “We understand that letters have now been sent out; however, we still have residents telling us that they have not received theirs. There is no question that removing so much parking from St Baldred’s Road, St Baldred’s Crescent as well as the car park at the library, will cause problems for residents. August is one of the busiest periods of the year for tourists on top of the event-goers and the vast majority will require parking.”

And she added: “North Berwick has had a well-documented parking problem for years: it is debatable whether a resolution can be found; however, removing spaces at the busiest time of the year was never going to help.

“We have requested that, in future years, NBCC is included in discussions with ELC and FBTS during the planning stages.

“FBTS organisers have been very responsive to this, so we hope that should the event take place across various locations in the town again, things will be improved for residents. Of course, we hope the event is a success.”

She added that the community council was concerned the events in the Lodge would also disturb the patients at the nearby Edington Hospital, "some of whom could be nearing end of life and face being kept up until midnight with loud noise over their back wall".

She added: "We really do wish the event all the success but it doesn't seem to be well thought through having it so close to dense residential areas."

Rory Steel, director of FBTS, said this year’s had been the “most challenging ever” but they were determined to put on a show “that benefits artists, freelance production staff, local businesses and the East Lothian community”.

He said: “The cultural sector has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic and, with so many events being cancelled, we are determined to help these groups while putting some smiles on faces.

“We have been speaking to a range of organisations during our planning process, making them aware of our intention to move the festival outdoors into spaces across the town to help mitigate the risk from Covid-19.  

“It is through the generosity of the North Berwick Trust, as well as other sponsors, and support from East Lothian Council that we have been able to make use of areas such as the Lodge and library car park.

“We have publicised our intentions on our website since the spring and distributed letters to around 250 homes most likely to feel disruption, once we had details and clarity on how the event might be run.

“We have been only too keen to answer questions and address concerns from local residents – we appreciate the inconvenience they may experience and have introduced a large number of protocols to reduce this as much as possible. 

“Indeed, it was following representation by local residents that we requested the suspension of parking in the St Baldred’s area to alleviate congestion.

“We take on board the request from residents for earlier engagement and shall look to do so in the future. We are enormously thankful for their understanding and support.”

And he added: “We’re just over two weeks away from a fantastic showcase delivered in a safe way that the whole region can be proud of.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said that the request for a parking suspension on parts of St Baldred’s Road and St Baldred’s Crescent was made by FBTS organisers to “help with traffic flow and after concerns that residents have for parking and emergency access”.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, East Lothian Council announced that, in response to concerns expressed by some residents and neighbours, the parking restrictions on the eastern carriageway of St Baldred’s Road would start from No.52 and not from its junction of Law Road as had been planned.

Spaces closest to the health centre will, therefore, still be available for public use.