Reflections on 21 years of architectural conservation
Edinburgh World Heritage’s Conservation Architect and Grants Manager, Fiona MacDonald, is retiring after 21 years with the organisation. In her…
20th July 2021
Edinburgh City Council has recently taken the decision to stop the use of gull-proof bags, combined with the red/blue box recycling programme, for refuse collection in certain parts of the New Town, and replace this system with communal bin ‘hubs’. Additionally, areas of the New Town which do not use the gull-proof bags, and are served by large communal black bins, combined with red/blue box recycling system, would also move to the new communal bin hubs. Edinburgh World Heritage was not consulted over this proposal prior to the decision being approved at committee.
There will be up to six individual bins at each hub – for food, glass, mixed recycling and residual waste. These will be emptied every other day. The aim is for there to be a hub within 50 metres of every household. The bin hubs will take up 8 metres of space in lateral parking areas, on both sides of a street.
It is worth stating that any major decisions concerning changes to services in local areas should be taken with the consent of the community. While this may not be a statutory obligation in the case of waste disposal, we believe that moving forward without the support of local people and community groups would set an unfortunate precedent for the future.
We understand that the council’s plan is a response to the numerous issues with the current system, some of which have been exacerbated during lockdown. Despite regular emptying, it is our understanding that the current communal bins regularly overflow, partly due to a high volume of unauthorised or inappropriate waste. The red/blue recycling programme is also at the limit of its capacity due to the increase in the amount of packaging that households wish to recycle. However, we are concerned that the current plan to locate numerous new bin hubs across the New Town represents a threat to the visual integrity of the New Town. Adding street clutter will negatively alter the character of our Georgian terraces. An Environmental Impact Assessment is being considered, which we believe is required.
Waste management in a World Heritage City is a complex issue for which there is no simple answer. Given that the New Town Conservation Area is highly valued for its authenticity, we believe that solutions and compromises need to be looked at on a street-by-street basis. We will work closely with City of Edinburgh Council to look at all options for delivering the service. We also recommend adopting a more flexible approach across the World Heritage Site to the principles which have guided the new proposals, such as the requirement that no bin hub should be further than 50 metres from each place of residence, or that no resident should have to cross a road to deposit waste. We propose that where required, planned bin hubs are in areas that minimise the visual impact on the historic streetscape, including adjacent to green space in streets and squares close to private gardens. Purely from a heritage and visual impact perspective, we are in favour of the gull-proof bags, and this will need to be considered alongside practical issues with the bags and wider public interest. For the future, we believe that underground waste storage systems may offer a better longer-term solution to reduce visual impact on the streetscape.
Ultimately, we believe that we all have a responsibility to reduce the issues and costs associated with waste disposal in Edinburgh – residents, local businesses, City of Edinburgh Council as well as visitors. Rather than the volume of waste increasing, it should be reducing over time. Adopting a three-pronged approach of ‘reduce, re-use, and recycle’ should enable this. Edinburgh World Heritage looks forward to working with the City of Edinburgh Council and local community groups to improve the current proposals so they better address issues with the current system of waste disposal, while maintaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site.
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