Proper funding for city public toilets and trees

Public toilets have more than shown their worth over the last two years, and the city’s trees need more attention to fight ash-dieback – Alex Staniforth gives a taste of a Green budget.

The January-February period is budget time at the Council – the Scottish Government has announced its budget intentions and each political party on the Council now has the opportunity to present how they think spending for the City should be prioritised.

Significant differences between the Green budget and that of other parties are almost inevitable. A Green budget is likely to have more funding for tackling the Climate Emergency – for example by improving walking and cycling provision – but there are two specific things likely to make into the Green budget, that I hope to see in every party’s budget this year.

The first is better funding for public toilets. In previous years the Council was moving away from supporting public toilets – shutting them down to save money in what I would describe as a false economy. Recently there has been a cross-party effort to reverse that trend and Covid has shown us how valuable public toilets can be – temporary public toilets in the Meadows and Leith Links were a godsend during a summer when we could only meet with friends outside.

Even outside of Covid, though, public toilets are a basic necessity that councils should provide and, in a city with as many visitors as ours need clear signage to boot. Nobody should be out for a walk or a picnic and find themselves ‘caught short’ and forced to duck behind a tree or down a close. Not only do public toilets keep our city clean, they also allow greater freedom for those who need them when out and about, such as those with small children and older people. I hope every party acknowledges the need for a network of permanent public toilets.

A second budget ask on my list is funding to help the forestry service cope with ash-dieback. You might not have heard of ash-dieback – a disease among trees is unlikely to make the front pages when human beings have their own plague to worry about! However ash-dieback is a serious problem and has reached Edinburgh. In my own ward, trees in Duddingston have already had to be cut down to manage the issue and it is only going to get worse.

In order to handle this disease, and keep on track with our aim to be a million-tree city, the forestry service will need funding to hire more teams to quickly cut down those trees which – sadly – must be lost to keep the disease from spreading and then to plant more trees to replace them for future generations to enjoy.

Shockingly, some of the ‘Millenium forests’ planted in 2000 have been declared as not sufficiently thriving to be spared the developer’s axe. We must avoid that fate for the trees we are planting now. Proper funding for the forestry service to plant trees which grow up healthy and strong is crucial. Edinburgh is rightly proud of its status as a green city – boasting the highest proportion of greenery to concrete of any city in the world – but to keep our green spaces as places of real beauty and strong biodiversity we need to see our trees through the blight of ash-dieback.

So there are a couple of my hopes for the Council budget – we’ll soon see if other parties can match them!

Cllr Alex Staniforth, is the Greens’ Finance spokesperson on Edinburgh Council