Below is a briefing from the Scottish Tourist Guides Association on the important part public toilets play in Edinburgh’s tourist economy. After the threat Colinton’s public toilets faced this year, I feel the we should use the Tourist Tax income to help protect (and improve) them.
FOR THE ATTENTION OF ALL MEMBERS OF THE CITY OF EDINBURGH COUNCIL
I am writing on behalf of the Edinburgh and SE Scotland Branch of the Scottish Tourist Guides Association (STGA). As Blue Badge guides, we work with many hundreds of tourists, guiding them around Edinburgh and Scotland. We enjoy showing off Edinburgh to local and foreign visitors. However our work is being seriously affected by the lack of suitable toilet facilities for our clients. As the Capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is sometimes the only place visitors experience in depth, and hence this issue affects all professional guides. We believe City of Edinburgh Council must take a lead in this matter in order to avoid negative feedback from all tourists in Scotland.
We understand current provision is not under threat, but that a Planning and maintenance Meeting on 28th February may decide to reduce hours, staffing or maintenance. We believe even in times of reduced budgets this would be very detrimental to what the Scottish Government has identified as a growth sector contributing around £6 billion pounds to our GDP.
The Council has provided a useful map for the facilities which do exist, and this includes disabled provision, and a Community Toilet Scheme, which we understand is unlikely to continue due to budget restrictions. Our issue is with groups of up to 50 clients who come by coach, after a long journey, are often elderly and cannot walk far. With up to 6 cruise ships coming in to the Edinburgh area in one day (and this may even increase as plans to bring ships into East Lothian progress) there are insufficient places where coaches can drop off and pick up with a large number of toilets nearby. We have researched this, largely because Holyrood Palace no longer allow photo and toilet stops unless visitors are entering the Palace. (Both the National Museum of Scotland and the Botanic Gardens do have suitable provision, but neither is ideal.) We are also ensuring clients that bring groups of visitors allow for extra time in their programmes.
A House of Commons Green Paper in 2008 recommended that local authorities take a strategic approach to toilet provision, and we believe this would help identify gaps in provision which could be addressed. The strategy could also take into account issues like night access for the homeless, provision by other Lothian Councils and the current or future Community Access Scheme. It might identify this as a national issue, rather an Edinburgh one only. Finally, If the Tourist Tax comes into effect, it should provide justification for spend on toilets.
In the short term at least, we request that consideration of the problem at a strategic level be given at the upcoming meeting, and that you and your fellow Councillors understand and input to an issue that will increasingly affect the public.
The Edinburgh Branch of the STGA would be happy to be involved in whatever way we can to ensure our clients are provided for, and continue to praise our City.
We look forward to your consideration and response.
June Allison Edgar, B.Sc., M.B.A.
Blue Badge Guide to Scotland