Botanics’ woooden benches face the axe

DECADES-OLD wooden memorial benches could be turfed out of a landmark park and replaced with plastic alternatives.

Bosses at the world-famous Royal Botanic Garden have revealed they are looking at replacing 120 memorial benches with versions made from recycled plastic as part of an eco-friendly drive to cut 
maintenance bills.

But the move has been branded “lamentable” by one of the Capital’s best-known arts figures, Richard Demarco, who said: “You cannot have ersatz furniture in a garden full of marvellous wooden trees.”

Under the rolling plan, due to be launched next month, members of the public would pay a £2000 “adoption” fee to have a plaque engraved and installed on one of the new benches for a ten-year period.

Botanics development manager Caroline McKay admitted the plastic bench replacements would be controversial for some.

But she said design details had not yet been finalised and insisted most visitors spoken to as part of a consultation exercise were relaxed about the idea.

She said: “We have had some who were not happy but most of those we’ve spoken to have been positive.

“In the time I have been at the Botanics I have seen consistent demand for new memorial benches and we currently have a waiting list of about 80 people who’re looking to adopt one.”

Ms McKay revealed around a third of the benches were in such bad condition they would have to be replaced “imminently”.

“Some of these benches are from the 1980s and some are falling to bits,” she said. “We’ve identified between 30 and 40 that need replacing now.”

Although the final decision has still to be taken on the design and materials, RBGE bosses confirmed recycled plastic would probably be used.

Ms McKay said she hoped to have at least 20 benches adopted next year and admitted the extra income would help plug a gap between the cost of day-to-day operations at the Botanics and funding from the Scottish Government.

She said: “We are a charity and like any other charity we are under financial pressure. We do want to raise core income, which is always difficult, and the income from the bench adoption scheme would go towards supporting our ongoing work in education and horticulture, enterprise, science and corporate services.”

Leading arts impresario Mr Demarco has slammed the move, however, and believes the Botanics’ visual character is set to be 
irreversibly damaged.

“It is nonsense – lamentable. Visually, the experience of being in the Botanics will be reduced by this,” he said.

“The fact those benches were wood was completely in harmony with the idea they were located in woodland. Now they’re planning to put in man-made stuff – and all to save money, as usual.

“It is regrettable they want to do this in 
Edinburgh – a city known for the beauty of its parkland and wood benches.”

But Ms McKay insisted the new benches would contribute to the vibrancy and financial strength of the Botanics. “They will take a lot less resource, time and money to maintain and they’ll be more durable than wood, especially in our Scottish climate,” she said.