Short term lets in a festival city

As Chair of a Community Council in Edinburgh, I see the realities of the ‘new’ economies on my own local Community and others in and around the city centre.

Tollcross being so close to the centre is dis-appropriately effected by high volumes of short term lets, being disparate and temporary residents, which add little to the communities that lives, works and plays in our City 365 days of the year.

I’m not saying for one moment I’m anti tourist, and short term lets can be done right, but the brutal facts are that these temporary visitors provide little or no benefit for the local area they stay in. They fuel a quick profit for flat owners, and generally help invest money back into the night-time economy of fast food take-away, and large chain groups of restaurants and pubs.

In Tollcross over the last five years we have seen more and more cheap student accommodation granted planning and at the same time that licensing of local premises has gone on unabated. Almost unnoticed apart from tenement residents effected has been the rise and rise of short terms lets from Airbnb being the most famous to a slew of others companies.

These lets seem to attract little more than party weekend accommodation. Obviously not all that use these services are hell bent on a wild weekend, but the issues coming from the rowdy crowd or not affect the local community in equal measure. The situation of overcrowding in a short term let, the lack of regulation and checking such as electrical checks within a let, fire checks and smoke alarms etc. and that before any anti-social behaviour is found when the ‘guests’ come back into a stair at three am.

This rental situation and the city being what some see as little more than Disneyland Edinburgh, Festival, Fringe, Hogmanay, Victorian Fair etc. etc. make for those that live in and around the city centre seem little more than collateral damage.

It is a fight for tourist money over local sustainable communities. Are we saying people who live in the City centre are merely no more than stage setting to a beautiful city back drop – quaint for living in a stage set that is a juggernaut for a few people to get rich quick over and over again.

Take the issue of affordable housing in the city. With more and more flats let out for short term the cost of housing goes up and up. A rent pressure zone has been championed by the Green Councillors in Edinburgh and others, and if it is taken up by the Council would be a small but sure start to help ease the effects on people that live and work in the City. A City that they love to share with tourist and students alike, but which needs to be regulated to be advantageous to all who visit or live here.

Unfortunately, the planners and others who grant us over and over again cheap student residential properties going up around the city that produce large transient populations that add to the pressure of short term lets.

A recent PAN (Pre-Application Notification) event in Fountainbridge I attended for a new student accommodation site looked more like a five-star hotel inside (not from the outside), very plush, aimed at international students who according to the developer would pay extra for this level of comfort and directly contribute to the local community because they would come to live here with their families. Apart from one small fact – the vast majority of the money-making rooms in the development were one bedroom bedsits. Hardly family friendly.

My own stair in Tollcross has seen two student flats in the stairs that care not what time of day or night they hold parties. September used to be a month to dread because from there on in till Christmas or beyond a student’s idea of settling in meant party party party and loud music. Their HMO (House in multiple occupation) licences have been increased by the City to three years – hardly seeming to worry about the issues.

Of course, not all students are like this, not all short term lets are like this but to the local community who suffer due the presence of these lets well its all the same side of the coin.

Would we have so many short term lets in Edinburgh if we didn’t have such a wonderful, awe-inspiring beautiful city. Isn’t it something we should just live with? Well yes and no. We can always manage things better. Local residents want balance.

A balance of events v. pressures on the city centre – it’s heartening to see this year St. Andrew’s Square has been left mostly empty of Fringe events on the grass. The gardens on lease to the City and let out and run by Essential Edinburgh the City Centre Business Improvement Zone has been a mess in past years. Large events with sheds, commerce and ice rinks on the square.

My Community is fed up, I get many emails about the pressures of short term lets and the nuisance they cause. We are currently working to get some things changed with our local Councillors and Andy Wightman MSP. We will be holding a public meeting later in the year for the City Centre to voice its concerns and see what can be done. Keep an eye out for dates etc. on www.tollcrosscc.org.uk

I favour the solution in some of the Scandinavian countries, where if everyone in the stairs doesn’t approve of the short-term let being set up it doesn’t get granted. Like HMO’s in Edinburgh it could be subject to similar safety checks and licensed for two or three years. But we are a long way off this solution, with anyone being able to setup their flat on a sharing website and no planning consent need if outside of London, and even then if the lets are less than 90 days it can be circumvented.

As for taxes that go unpaid, the UK government announced an increase to the Rent-a-Room relief in 2015, allowing hosts to earn up to £7,500 tax free from sharing space in their only or main home (the threshold is halved if you share the income with your partner or someone else).

On the subject of money – a tourist tax has been sort by City of Edinburgh Council and as such has wide support – but not from the UK Government.

It would seek to raise extra money to out back into Edinburgh, but at the current time the money would be envisioned going back to support the arts and festivals that the Council support finically.  This article in the Evening News form 2104 said we couldn’t afford the grant. http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/inspire-me/festivals/council-row-city-can-t-afford-festival-subsidy-1-3599756

It’s time to rebalance the given that this is a festival city and that locals have to put up with the good and bad of it in the name of Edinburgh’s International reputation. I live here. Come and visit but do it in a reasonable way for all concerned and we’ll all be friends and share this wonderfully city together.

Views expressed in this article are my personal thoughts and not necessarily the views of Tollcross Community Council.

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