Private capital gardens to stay private

PRIVATE gardens in Edinburgh's New Town look likely to remain as "private pleasure gardens" after moves to open them to the public drew a lukewarm response from residents' associations.

The city council put forward plans to open city centre green spaces following the successful redevelopment of St Andrew Square Garden, which has attracted thousands of visitors since its public opening in September 2008.

There are more than 40 private gardens in the New Town, including Queen Street Gardens, where a park with a pond in the middle of it was said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Residents living near private gardens generally pay about 100 a year for a key, to cover maintenance and gardening.

The council's parks and greenspace manager wrote to 31 management committees last month, offering "exploratory discussions" about opening private gardens.

But details contained in a council report due to be discussed next week show that 11 indicated no interest, 13 letters were returned or not replied to, and seven said they would put the proposals to their annual general meeting.

Conservative city centre councillor Joanna Mowatt, who backed the residents, said: "These private pleasure gardens take away the pressure of city centre living and are used very much as people's personal gardens, and I understand their reluctance to change things.

"I would also be concerned about who would maintain the gardens to their present standard if they were handed over."

Councillor Lesley Hinds, who proposed the motion to increase public access, said: "I'm very disappointed in the council's recommendations, which basically say 'We don't have any money, so we can't develop this further, so let's not look at any options'. I do understand people living in the city centre see the gardens as being like their own front garden, and there is no point in pursuing something when people are totally against you.

"However, St Andrew Square Garden was such a success that we were also looking at opening up Charlotte Square and Rutland Square Garden in the West End.

"While I think we should be looking at imaginative ways of working with residents' associations and identifying public gardens to open up, we should in the meantime focus on what we can do with Charlotte Square and Rutland Square Gardens."

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH), which supported opening up Charlotte Square Gardens, said:

"EWH will only support the repair of gardens where there is provision for increased free public access. The key issue is the maintenance of the garden, and whether it is realistic to expect public funds to be used."

The city's environment leader Robert Aldridge said: "Edinburgh is fortunate to have many wonderful parks and green spaces and there are also a number of city centre gardens, some in council ownership, that have the potential to be improved should funding become available.

"Discussions are ongoing over the possible future development of a number of privately owned sites, although I must stress that these are still at a very early stage. Obviously, the views of all the owners involved will be paramount in deciding whether any proposals can be developed at some future date."