THE biggest ever series of improvements to Edinburgh's "appalling" public toilets has been put on hold as city leaders consider whether to close down more than a dozen of them.
The city council had earmarked 414,000 to be spent on essential improvements to Edinburgh's 31 public toilets this year.
But it has now confirmed that the work has been put on hold indefinitely while councillors decide whether to accept proposals by council officials to shut half of them.
It would have been the first major investment in the city's notoriously poor public toilets since 2003, when a 150,000 revamp was carried out.
It has led to growing concerns about the lack of action taken to tackle the problem.
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Among the city's worst toilets are the graffiti-covered facilities on Middle Meadow Walk, which regularly attract antisocial behaviour.
Others that are among the most notorious toilets in Edinburgh include those next to the Ross Bandstand in the heart of Princes Street Gardens, The Mound, Hunter Square and London Road.
Mike Bone, director of the British Toilet Association, which is running a nationwide "Save Our Toilets" campaign, said: "Edinburgh's toilets have been in decline for many years. Some local authorities are having financial pressures now and budget cuts mean they have to cut back on cleaning and maintenance, but Edinburgh is different because its toilets have already been in decline for many years.
"For a capital city and a world heritage site, they really are appalling. If you compare them with cities like London and Belfast, Edinburgh is a long way behind."
Council chiefs have proposed closing 15 of the 31 toilets as part of the budget process for 2011-12, with councillors due to decide next month. The move would save more than 400,000 a year.
Mr Bone insisted that proposals to close half of the facilities will lead to people staying away from the city centre. He said: "Where do they expect people to go? Edinburgh is a massive tourist attraction and it has masses of residents and they need to be able to have toilets available."If they start closing them down, people will stop going into the city centre."
Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: "There is an issue around the shortage and quality of public conveniences in Edinburgh.
"If this money has been allocated in the current year then at least an element of that should be spent on some of the facilities, even if there is a proposal to close some of them.
"There is a danger that, if the money is not spent as allocated this year, then it may suffer next year and be reduced or even not allocated at all."
City centre councillor Joanna Mowat said: "Public toilets are a rather fraught subject. There is a general dilapidation and they are not as well kept as they should be."
A council spokeswoman said: "There is no public safety risk to this work not going ahead this year. Councillors are currently considering officer proposals and a decision will be made in February."
EDINBURGH'S WORST TOILETS?
Middle Meadow Walk
Chris Wigglesworth, convener of the Friends of the Meadows, said: "We have concerns about the safe upkeep of the public toilets there."
Not only is the hygiene and maintenance a concern at West Tollcross, but also anti-social behaviour. Locals have long complained about people hanging around suspiciously outside.
The run-down facilities could be improved as part of a 14 million revamp, discussed since 2006.
There have been plans in the past to close them. One idea was conversion into a kitchen for a planned local restaurant. Bill Cowan, a member of the Old Town Association, said: "They are a vital feature. If the council wants to learn how to run public toilets, they only have to go to East Lothian. In North Berwick, they are manned by volunteers and even have flowers."
In 2006, fire crews were called when vandals attempted to burn them down by lighting rolls of toilet paper.