Just before Christmas, I was privileged to contribute to a debate in the Scottish Parliament led by Gordon Lindhurst MSP on the future of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. During the debate, I was reminded of Alexander McCall-Smith’s depiction of Edinburgh as “a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again”. Yet listening to the thoughtful words of MSPs, it became clear to me that this is indeed a city, which is breaking residents’ hearts in other ways.
Take for example, the boom in short term holiday lets. Look online and you will find that of the 6200 listings in Edinburgh, over 55 per cent of these properties are entire homes or flats where the owner isn’t present. Following December’s debate and the report in this paper, I received many emails from constituents with stories of the detrimental impact these lets are having on their local communities.
One resident told me about security concerns with a constant stream of strangers coming and going at all hours of the day and night. Another constituent is now the only permanent resident in his stair. Others have reported instances of anti-social behaviour taking place that have brought about interventions from the council’s Community Safety team and and in more severe cases, Police Scotland. In one case I investigated, it appears that the owners of a flat are letting it out in breach of their title conditions.
Obviously the tourist economy is important to Edinburgh and the city needs to have suitable accommodation available but not at the expense of well-established, cohesive communities especially in the historic Old Town. Edinburgh is not the only city to be faced with this issue. Paris, Berlin, Toronto and others face similar challenges and there is much to learn from them about how to better regulate the use of residential property.
If you have been affected by short-term lets or other changes to the use of property and would like to see these be more fully regulated, please get in touch. In the coming weeks I will be hosting a round table meeting on this very subject to explore how we can tackle this issue by, for example reform of the planning system. Working with others, I hope we can ensure Edinburgh has a World Heritage Site of which to be proud.
Andy Wightman is a Scottish Green Party MSP for Lothian