Edinburgh could become the next UK city to lose its world heritage status, councillors fear, after plans were unveiled to install giant “bin hubs” on its historic Georgian streets.
Locals warned that the planned overhaul to rubbish collections in the city’s New Town would “desecrate” an area that is home to some of the finest neoclassical architecture in the world and inspired Edinburgh’s claim to title of ‘the Athens of the north’.
The major row broke out after the city council was accused of railroading through plans to scrap the ‘gull-proof bags’ and recycling boxes the area’s well-heeled residents have been using for several years, which were left outside on pavements for weekly early morning collections.
Instead, the town hall plans to impose multiple ‘bin hubs’ throughout the area, raising fears that the new eyesores will contribute to Edinburgh going the same way as Liverpool’s waterfront, in being stripped of its prestigious Unesco status as a World Heritage site.
Up to six bins would be installed in each hub for recycling and household waste, under proposals that have also been criticised by conservation bodies.
The move follows widespread concern at other developments in Scotland’s capital, including the building of a poo-shaped hotel which has become known to locals as ‘the golden turd’ and critics claim ruins the city skyline.
"It would be a complete desecration of the streetscape,” Carol Nimmo, chair of New Town and Broughton Community Council, said of the bins proposals.
“Now we’ve got nothing on the street for six days and 23 hours. Suddenly, they want these permanent fixtures, literally in front of the houses all the way through these beautiful streets.
"The Unesco decision on Liverpool has focused minds. If you read their decision they don’t just talk about the big buildings, they talk about the cumulative effect of smaller decisions. That’s exactly what’s happening here.
"Everyone in other areas that got these containers in 2013 were told it would be regular collections, they’d be kept tidy. But they’re almost always overflowing.
"If you’ve been in Edinburgh lately, you can see the city is not a great place to behold, because it’s such a mess."
Locals are particularly annoyed that the council has used traffic regulations to force the changes through, rather than the planning system which gives the public a greater say. Few knew about the proposed changes until they were approved at an obscure council meeting.
Ms Nimmo warned that Edinburgh’s heritage status had come under threat before, most notably over now abandoned plans to develop its historic Royal High Scottish building. The city is not on Unesco ‘at risk’ register, which Liverpool had been since 2012.
Australia also avoided yesterday having the Great Barrier Reef listed as an endangered world heritage site by Unesco, despite extensive climate change-fuelled damage to the ecosystem’s corals, following a lobbying effort from Canberra.
However, Ms Nimmo warned that developments such as the ‘golden turd’ hotel and a revamped shopping development in the city could soon see Unesco turn its attention towards Scotland again.
"Edinburgh City Council have, without doubt, not been looking after their heritage,” she said. “We are concerned that the heritage site is coming way down on their priority list.”
Edinburgh World Heritage, an independent charity, has warned that bin hubs in other areas had become magnets for fly-tippers and “represents a threat to the visual integrity of the New Town”. The added “street clutter” will “negatively alter the character of our Georgian terraces”.
Christina Sinclair, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said that while Edinburgh’s Unesco status “is not under imminent threat” the decision in Liverpool highlighted the need for the city to “remain vigilant”.
The Cockburn Association, the 146-year-old Edinburgh conservation group, has warned that Unesco’s decision on Liverpool is a “warning bell” and called for the council’s policies to be reviewed.
However, Karen Doran, Edinburgh Council’s vice convenor for the environment, claimed the bin hubs would bring “numerous benefits”, such as more regular collections and helping meet environmental targets.
Rules that mean residents must walk no more than 50 metres to a bin may also be relaxed to reduce the number, she said.
She added: “We recognise the uniqueness of the World Heritage area and are rightly proud of the special status that this area of Edinburgh holds.
“We are confident that we can introduce a more modern and fit-for-purpose waste and recycling service that does not undermine the character of the area.”