Well the Mela has not even got underway, and already controversy has broken out.
Leith Athletic, who claim Leith Links as their home have posted three photos onto their Facebook page, along with a statement on their website alledging that vehicles associated with the Mela have damaged “numerous” areas of Leith Links, causing “irreperable damage.” They say the damage has forced the club to cancel 11 different football games.
Ken O’Neill has also picked up the issue on his blog. He has firmly sided with Leith Athletic and writes:
“According to the Mela’s website, they are taking steps to manage the event in a more sustainable way and reducing its environmental impacts.
“That all sounds well and good but they don’t seem to care about the impacts, environmentally or otherwise, their actions are having on other members of the community, with whom they share the site. If the Mela is about the community growing closer together than a good place to start is with mutual respect and consideration. Sadly, that seems lacking in this case.”
We asked the The Mela organisers to give a response to the allegations from Leith Athletic. In a statement, their spokesperson said the Leith Athletic photos were misleading, and added:
“The Mela is based out of Leith, run from and as part of the community.
“Good relationships with that community, and the preservation of Leith Links, are as important to us as everyone else in the area: after significant feedback from the community we’ve taken extensive steps this year to ensure any impact on the environment is minimised: it’s something that’s of paramount importance to us, and we care very deeply about our long-term impact on the area and community.
“We’ve been in constant contact with the Parks Department, and as Ken noted in his blog, we both pay rent for use of the space and have paid a significant bond to the council against ground damage and repairs. We have, as promised, placed trackway down at entrance and exit points to protect the most vulnerable parts of the site. We’ve never made a statement claiming that we were going to lay trackway down over the whole site, and we’ve never been asked to.
“What we’ve been unable to legislate for is the weather. Almost every outdoor event in the country has been affected by the unprecedented amount of rainfall this year: following 24 hours of rain on Monday, and yesterday’s torrential downpour, the grass on Leith Links has been left extremely boggy and more prone to wear than we could have anticipated.
“We’ve been regularly halting production around the Mela site to preserve the space as much as possible: we temporarily ceased all movement of vehicles on the site yesterday following the huge amounts of rain, to allow the site some time to recover.
“We’ve particularly taken extensive steps this year to ensure that the main marked football pitch areas are left untouched.
“Our director has been spending his days on the site personally ensuring that vehicles do not drive over the main football pitch areas: we’ve erected fencing around them and have been making sure that all drivers coming to the site understand the boundaries.
“The small 7-a-side pitch marked where we’re erecting our World Dance Feste tent was not marked as a football pitch when we submitted our plans (which were created through extensive consultation with Leith Links Community Council) to Edinburgh City Council in May.
“The pictures on the Facebook page are also misleading; whether or not Leith Athletic is one of the many local organisations, including the Mela, who make use of the specific area in their pictures, that particular space is not marked out, nor formally reserved, as a football pitch.
“We approached Leith Athletic early in the year, intending to suggest that their youth groups might like to participate in the Mela and to look at ways of co-operating; our overtures were rejected and no discussion occurred.
“Ultimately, Leith Links is a shared public park space, and we’re a publically-funded organisation, using a section of that space to try and bring the local community together.
“We believe that the benefits the Mela brings to Leith are significant; we’ve taken equally significant steps to minimise the damage this year. That there will be some damage to the ground is inevitable with any event of this size, especially after the rainfall this year, but we’re trying our best – in very difficult weather conditions – to keep it to a minimum, and our bond is there to cover any costs incurred in repairs.”
The Edinburgh Mela gets underway tomorrow evening on the Links with a free open air theatre event.