In April 2021, the City of Edinburgh Council made the decision to introduce communal bin hubs into the city, including throughout the World Heritage Site. This was a move away from the visually low-impact gull proof bags and recycling boxes which have been used for many years in parts of the World Heritage Site. The communal bin hub proposals would be for up to six individual bins at each hub – for food, glass, mixed recycling and residual waste, to be emptied every other day. The aim was for there to be a hub within 50 metres of every household, with each hub taking up 8 metres of space in lateral parking areas, on both sides of a street.
Edinburgh World Heritage was not consulted over this proposal prior to the decision being approved at committee, and has raised notable concerns about these proposals since that time. We have consistently advised that the planned introduction of on-street communal bins in the manner proposed would have a damaging effect on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site; in particular, the quality and legibility of the historic planned New Town, which is highly valued from a local to international scale.
Our consistent position has been that a wider range of options should be explored inclusively with World Heritage Site communities, and we have provided our expert advice – working collaboratively with the project leaders over a period of months to analyse each proposed location and find the best solution to reduce the impact across the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site on a street by street basis. The result was a list of practical mitigation measures which sought to balance shared city, community and heritage needs. These included the reduction in the size of the bin hubs (retaining some kerbside services), locating them in less visually intrusive locations, changing their orientation, corralling design and colour.
As practical city partners with many mutual successes in collaboration with the Council, we understand the complex nature of the scheme, and finding practical, balanced solutions was a key aspect of the mitigation measures developed. We are therefore very disappointed in the apparent decision to drop all but the most minor mitigation measures developed. We do not consider that sufficient evidence has been provided for doing so, and believe that road safety or accessibility concerns could be addressed in a balanced and collaborative way. We are concerned that the heritage, social, economic, wellbeing and environmental benefits of the World Heritage Site have been considerably under-valued in this particular instance.
We fully appreciate that the Council has many challenging duties to meet when making decisions on city management, but one such obligation is to protect and enhance the World Heritage Site and to ensure that its Outstanding Universal Value is conserved for current and future generations to enjoy and benefit from. As always, Edinburgh World Heritage is committed to supporting our city partners in achieving this.
To this end, we want to be helpfully clear and transparent that our position is that the introduction of new communal bin hubs without all, or the substantial majority of, the mitigation measures advised by Edinburgh World Heritage will cause a significant level of harm to the World Heritage Site, and the proposed mitigation measures indicated at the committee meeting of 27th January 2022 do not go far enough.
By the same token, the adoption of the advised mitigation measures, alongside meaningful community engagement, would substantially reduce the heritage impact and move towards an important balance of conservation, city and community needs. This would align with the Council’s obligation to protect the World Heritage Site and better reflect their wider historic city management strengths and practices. We therefore call on the Council to revise their position and take this approach. As a practical city partner and heritage experts, we are here to help the Council to develop the best proposals for the management of the city for stakeholders and residents, whilst operating within an outstanding historic environment.