Public demand access to fabulous gardens in the heart of their city

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The Independent Online
IN CENTRAL Edinburgh yesterday, Ilene McIvor, hot from carrying Euan, 20 months, in a backpack and keeping her daughter Ashlie, four, away from the traffic, stopped at an elegant park for a juice break.

However, as usual, St Andrew Square gardens, like many of the city's parks, were locked, the oasis of blossoming flora empty except for six workmen manicuring the lawns.

The only people allowed into this paradise were busy in their offices - employees of the 15 financial institutions based in the square that hold keys.

But next month, when the Scottish Parliament reopens, pressure will mount to throw open the gates to the capital's 450,000 residents, most of whom are excluded from about a dozen of the city's internationally famous gardens.

With their winding paths and cool tree-lined glades, many of these fabulous escapes are hidden behind walls and railings, so that, although they are right in the middle of the Georgian New Town, their pleasures can be only imagined by outsiders.

Many will not, for example, have explored the 28 acres of Queen St Gardens, where Robert Louis Stevenson (whose family held a key) was said to have sailed his toy boats in the pond. The tiny island in the middle is said have inspired Stevenson's adventure story Treasure Island.

Now, however, the Scottish National Party, the Green Party and the Scottish Socialists have all officially backed the campaign to let the public in.

This week, Donald Dewar, Scotland's First Minister, also called for the gardens to be made more open to the public.

Mr Dewar, at a time when the Parliament is sweeping away archaic feudal land laws, is in an awkward position. The gardens of Charlotte Square are officially open to only one resident: himself. The closest many Edinburgh people have come to exploring the garden's delights came this week, when it has been the site of the International Book Festival.

"I think these gardens are too big for one person," said Tommy Sheridan, MSP for the Scottish Socialist Party. "Donald Dewar only lives in Charlotte Square part-time. They have got to be opened up. It is ridiculous to keep them under lock and key."

The frustration of local people is plain. Mrs McIvor, 33, a business development manager, said: "It is very tiring having two young children in town.

"They would love a chance to run around for a few minutes and have a snack between going to the shops.

"If I could bring them into the gardens I would know they would be safe. But I can't even open the gate."