Anger at plan for toilets at St Andrew Square

The St Andrew Square Garden cafe was contentious, but the plan for hew toilets has critics up in arms. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

The St Andrew Square Garden cafe was contentious, but the plan for hew toilets has critics up in arms. 'Picture: Neil Hanna

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NEW toilets for cafe customers are to be built in St Andrew Square – despite plans to axe neighbouring public conveniences.

Conservationists are already worried about “creeping commercialisation” of the world heritage site and fear “long-term damage” could be done if the scheme is approved.

Directors at business improvement group Essential Edinburgh are behind plans for the new loos, which they claim will improve the square’s overall appearance. But proposals to close up to 20 of the of the city’s 29 public conveniences, including two automated toilets at St Andrew Square, mean visitors caught short face having to cross their legs or make a trip to the bus station.

Critics today hit out at the plans and said they amounted to “neglect” of residents and tourists who want to spend time at the New Town landmark.

Corstorphine resident Ken Swinney, also secretary of the area’s community council, said: “We would not be encouraging it.

“I would agree that it’s neglecting visitors – it’s a bad, serious move. Public toilets are something we should be making provision for.”

Richard Price, planning leader at New Town and Broughton Community Council, said: “The cafe that’s there just now does not need to be any bigger – if there’s an issue with waste storage then they need to manage that within the existing building they have.

“Generally, I think there are concerns, especially if you look at the state of the square now, about creeping commercialisation. These are public gardens.” Concerns have also been raised over how the square is being used after stalls, bars and a temporary ice rink set up for Edinburgh’s Christmas festivities were removed to reveal it had been turned into a “swamp-like” patch of land almost devoid of grass.

Heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association warned the “original concept of a dignified garden of outstanding design quality” would be diminished by moves to turn it into a “commercial opportunity”, adding that these could also cause long-term damage to the ground itself.

Director Marion Williams said: “The association welcomed the proposals to open the garden to the public, but expressed its concerns regarding the pavilion, when the original application for the square was submitted in 2006.

“In 2008 we asked for a limit on the size of the structure, which was supposed to be a kiosk, which was to be temporary and generate income for the initial works and garden maintenance. Now we have before us a proposal to add an additional permanent building, of poor design, to increase the operation of the outlet.

“If granted permission it is only a matter of time before further proposals come forward to increase the number of pavilions in the square.” Essential Edinburgh stressed plans for the private facility were still at an early stage.

Chief executive Andy Neal said: “At the moment, we are exploring the possibility – no more than that – of developing a smaller, round structure to match the existing cafe development in the Garden.

“This would be used to house cold storage, toilets for customers, and also to hide away the cafe bins and improve the general amenity.

“We are trying to gauge the planning view as part of this, but it is by no means something we are definitely pressing ahead with at this stage.”