Helen Martin: We deserve a share of the tourism bonanza

Providing short-term holiday lets for tourists can prove a money-spinner for homeowners. Picture: Toby Williams
Providing short-term holiday lets for tourists can prove a money-spinner for homeowners. Picture: Toby Williams
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SHORT-term holiday lets are becoming a problem in every city where a thriving tourist industry creates demand. Not every visitor wants to stay in a hotel or even a guest house, and many prefer the independence, freedom and flexibility of renting accommodation.

But as with cities such as Berlin, Paris and New York (where one woman was fined $1000 for renting out her Trump Towers apartment for a short term) Edinburgh does have to consider regulation to limit holiday lets.

Theresa May clearly hails from Planet Home Counties. Picture: AP

Theresa May clearly hails from Planet Home Counties. Picture: AP

The prediction that half the flats in the city centre will be holiday lets by 2050 is terrifying in a city where already local people are struggling to find a home. However, this is a prize example of a proposed piece of legislation that has to be thoroughly thought through, and not rushed into with a blanket ruling likely to backfire.

There are different forms of short-term holiday lets, the most criticised being an absent landlord taking advantage of the Capital’s year-round tourism to take their property off the housing market and make four or five times as much for weekly tourist rental.

That’s where restriction is really necessary, whether by fines, business tax, licensing, or a formal procedure for council approval.

Other forms of short-term rental, also using sites such as Airbnb, fall into a completely different category. A homeowner who is retired or has been made redundant and is prepared to let out one or two rooms over the summer to help them pay their mortgage and bills is not a fat cat, greedy, profiteering landlord.

Many young people can’t imagine ever getting on the housing ladder in Edinburgh, where prices are among the highest outside London. But some who have managed to buy their own pad and could move home to their parents or stay with friends for a month or so, can ease their financial stress with short tourist lets.

Why shouldn’t people in these positions be entitled to use their own home in order to get a tiny share of the proceeds from the tourist industry?

Unlike absentee landlords running holiday lets as a business, it’s their home and they do have to maintain good relationships with their neighbours and take responsibility for stair litter, noise disturbance and any other tourist negatives.

We should be looking for as many ways as possible for ordinary citizens who pay council tax to benefit from Edinburgh’s huge tourist draw. We all contribute to tourism costs, from extra street cleaning to fireworks and festivals. The income shouldn’t be confined to large hotel chains, restaurants, bars and attractions.

Since Edinburgh has always put tourists above the interests of locals, it must already know that many visitors of all ages prefer self-catering. And thanks to the efforts of the council and tourist bodies to promote the city as a destination, that market continues to grow.

It shouldn’t be about curbing ALL short-term holiday lets. It’s about limiting those run by businesses or absent individuals who don’t care about the repercussions on neighbours they don’t even know, or the fact that they are contributing to a chronic housing shortage.

So please, not a hasty, ill-thought out, knee jerk piece of legislation – especially one based merely on extra revenue for the council – carrying no distinction between the different types of short letting. That would be unfair.

Let’s outfox Cruella De Vil

I ONCE wrote that Theresa May’s triumphal, head-thrown-back laughter in Parliament looked scarily like Cruella De Vil.

Not as far from the truth as I thought because last week she announced that she had “always been in favour of fox-hunting”.

A fox is a member of the dog family, albeit a stray. They live in family groups – a male with a bunch of females or a mother looking after her blind, helpless pups while the male provides sustenance. Training working dogs to go and rip their cousins apart for human enjoyment is simply a posh form of dog-fighting . . . very Cruella.

I’m not a city leftie. I spent much of my childhood on a farm and as a teenager I rode out on two fox hunts, neither resulting in a catch. So many of us were glad of that, we pushed for a drag hunt instead – where the excitement of people, horses and dogs is just as high but there is no bloody ending.

Supporting fox-hunting (along with her crazy idea that “there are many complex reasons why people go to food banks”), proves that Mrs May is from Planet Home Counties. Ruth Davidson needs to have a word.

It’ll always be the Sick Kids to me

THE Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, Edinburgh (RHCYP) doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Some parents believe the change of name from “Sick Kids” is good because it sounds “more fun”.

A hospital is a hospital. People go there when they are sick. The staff and the environment make it as “fun” as humanly possible, not the name.

NHS Lothian can call it whatever they like. It will be a long time before folk stop referring to the familiar, traditional Sick Kids, and possibly for ever before RCHYP catches on.

Please form an orderly line..

I’VE checked Highway Code advice. Cyclists can ride two abreast but “should” be single file on a busy or winding road. Perhaps a few signs to that effect would help us all.