Edinburgh Council is burning up public goodwill – Iain Whyte

What links Edinburgh Council, unthinking attitudes, and fire?
Barbecues in parks can cause fires and damage to the grass (Picture: Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)Barbecues in parks can cause fires and damage to the grass (Picture: Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)
Barbecues in parks can cause fires and damage to the grass (Picture: Axel Schmidt/Getty Images)

We are no clearer yet that anyone has ever been held accountable for the 2020 scandal of the burned memorial benches and attitudes certainly haven’t changed.

Last week the same uncaring approach saw the council cut back plants put in by volunteers at Saughton Park over the threat of fire during the recent dry weather. Perhaps less heinous than upsetting grieving relatives but the insult to the public is similar.

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Our cash-strapped council has increasingly asked volunteers and donors to get involved to make our communities and neighbourhoods better places. But internal practices still don’t value the work provided.

Additionally, an ever-decreasing maintenance schedule and an absence of enforcement means we have no hope of keeping our greenspaces clean and safe from fire.

One key risk in parks is from disposable barbecues. Even when they don’t start a wildfire, they burn patches of grass and cause damage that takes years to recover. This should be simple to solve because the rules are clear: no barbecues except in designated places. The only designated stone barbecue bases are in the Meadows, Bruntsfield Links and Roseburn Park.

The rules are far from Draconian. They were approved after wide consultation, have the support of friends’ groups, and the language is so soft that one wonders how nanny ever expects to gain control.

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So why do I see barbecues every day in my local park, Leith Links? Like litter, graffiti and many other problems, there’s a complete lack of enforcement. I don’t blame the park rangers as there are far too few of them and their instructions to “engage” not “enforce” are too vague. The problem is the system.

In 2021 the council’s attitudes were borne out when they ignored their own rules and wasted £8,640 of our money putting special barbecue bins in parks where barbecues are banned. The bins were quickly rendered useless when the public ignored the sticker on the side and filled them with combustible general rubbish. They became an additional fire risk! When I questioned this waste, the answer blithely ignored the enforcement issue.

Contrast our approach with London where the fire brigade is being robust in saying you should not light barbecues in parks and green spaces because of the wildfire danger. They’ve also called for a ban on the sale of disposable barbecues and some retailers have voluntarily complied.

Edinburgh Council supposedly has a strong “partnership” with the Scottish Fire Service. It even extends to climate change issues. Perhaps we need similar strong advice. As well as being climate ready, the London advice fosters better use of resources. Here in Edinburgh, we have big slogans about net zero by 2030 but little practical action or advice.

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At the June council meeting, I called for action on how we can clean up Edinburgh. A key part of that was a request for action on enforcement. I really do hope the whole council listens when we get a report back listing the actions and costs required.

The council must change its attitude. It must support those who volunteer and value their neighbourhood, alongside those who simply do the right thing. If that means enforcing the rules against those who don’t, then so be it.

Councillor Iain Whyte is Conservative group leader