‘Brash’ new development, unregulated Airbnb, student accommodation and tourist tax debated at city’s first Heritage Hustings
Apr 19, 2017
Against the historic backdrop of St. Stephen’s Stockbridge, one of the largest audiences yet seen for a local government hustings in the city debated a range of issues yesterday evening with representatives of all five parties. Subjects raised included the impact of ‘brash’ new development, the consequences of unregulated Airbnb holiday lets, the proposed ‘tourist tax’ and the growth of student accommodation in the city centre.
Edinburgh World Heritage, the charity responsible for the conservation and promotion of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, hosted the event on the day it released its manifesto for the city’s local government elections.
All parties confirmed their commitment to the World Heritage Site, seen by Liberal Democrat candidate David Stevens as ‘crucial to our quality of life as well as to the local economy’. SNP Cllr Alex Lunn added that he wanted to see the benefits of our World Heritage Site ‘shared by as many people as possible’ across the city.
However, the growth of tourism can have unintended consequences. Conservative Cllr Joanna Mowat commented that ‘heritage supports both the universities and the finance industry, as well as the high tech sector. If we solely concentrate on attracting tourists we will diminish the appeal of the city for those who come to work in other sectors.’ Labour Cllr Ian Perry remarked that ‘we need to get the balance right because we need people living in the centre’.
The impact of new hotel development was also a subject of intense debate. Green Cllr Nigel Bagshaw revealed that arguments put forward by some developers had become ‘bizarre’. ‘We were told we needed a six-star hotel because there are people who will come from China and pay £6,000 for a bottle of whisky – but this is just not what people in Edinburgh are crying out for’. He added that ‘too many of our councillors are seduced by brash new development’.
Concerning the growth of Airbnb short term holiday lets, both Cllrs Alex Lunn and Ian Perry acknowledged the scale of the issue and indicated the whole council is working together to try and find a solution. Cllr Nigel Bagshaw added that Airbnb was ‘forcing up house prices, rents and destroying the fabric of the communities particularly in the old town and we need to take action’.
A theme during the evening was the tension caused when the Scottish Government overrules decisions taken by locally elected councillors, especially in cases when the local planning committee has refused permission for more student housing. Cllr Joanna Mowat commented that ‘if they continue to do that they will completely undermine local democracy’.
Several candidates voiced their support for the new Management Plan for the World Heritage Site, with Cllr Ian Perry suggesting that ‘we need to manage the centre differently to the rest of the city’. Cllr Alex Lunn added that the plan for the WHS ‘needs to be accepted and implemented by all departments of the council – not just the planning department’. Cllr Joanna Mowat suggested that ‘every councillor needs to be trained on the Outstanding Universal Values of the World Heritage site – what that means’.
The panel were broadly in favour of a tourist levy to help fund improvements to local services – and in a straw poll an overwhelming majority of the audience was also in favour.
On the increase in the amount of student housing in the city centre, David Stevens commented ‘we have to say no to an over concentration of student accommodation in certain areas’. Joanna Mowat added that ‘we have given over too many sites to student housing’ partly because ‘it is cheaper to develop and commercial developers want to put their money into them’. Alex Lunn commented that the SNP manifesto is committed to a review of student housing and HMO rules, and that he wanted to see student accommodation being pushed outwith the City Centre. Ian Perry said that under the Labour/SNP administration, ‘we insist that for student housing developments of a certain size they need to be 50% student accommodation, 50% residential’.
Adam Wilkinson, Director of Edinburgh World Heritage commented ‘we are delighted that the city’s first heritage hustings has been such a success in drawing out the issues that really concern residents. The large attendance and the commitments made by all parties during the evening give reassurance that the future of the World Heritage Site is a bright one. We look forward to working with the next Council administration to ensure the World Heritage Site’s incredible benefits are enjoyed by everyone’.
Edinburgh's Heritage Hustings was supported by Built Environment Forum Scotland
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