When I came to live in the Southside in 1991, one of the attractions was that it was a community that seemed to offer everything we needed almost on our doorstep.
I liked the fact that there were people of all ages and of many different nationalities living here. There was a good balance and community spirit, and many people had lived in the Southside all their lives. Now however, that balance has gone, and I feel the community is in danger of being destroyed by the rapid growth of student housing in the area.
New planning applications for student housing developments seem to be appearing all the time, with developments at Deaconess House and Holyrood South taking in their first tenants when the new academic year begins in September, and further developments being proposed (or already being built) at Holyrood North, Buccleuch Street, Buccleuch Place/Meadow Lane, Causewayside, Lothian Street, Lutton Court and St Leonard’s Street.
There have, of course, always been students living in the Southside, but previously they were in the minority, living as part of our local community. Now the situation is starting to feel as though it has been reversed, and many Southsiders feel that they are living on a student campus.
There is no denying that students do benefit the area in many ways, not least in the amount of money they spend in local shops, bars, coffee shops, etc, but there has to be a limit to the amount of dedicated student housing and I feel that limit has already been reached. Also, only a limited number of students settle in the Southside after graduating, so they often don’t have a long-term commitment to the community.
It is, after all, this long-term commitment to live in and develop relationships with other local people over many years that helps to build a thriving community. Whenever new student housing is built, it takes away land that could be better used for social housing, which would give more people the opportunity to make the Southside their permanent home.
The number of students living in parts of the Southside is already far in excess of the council’s guidelines. Surely it would make more sense for some of these student developments to be built in other parts of Edinburgh. It could bring much-needed money into other areas, and students would still have a fairly short journey to college or university.
Students have always been welcome in the Southside, but we have to maintain a balance between students and other members of the Southside community and with all the proposed new student housing, this balance is being jeopardised. In 1972, a group of residents formed The Southside Association, with the practical aims of retaining the population in improved housing, and bringing about the rehabilitation of streets and buildings of architectural and historical interest.
This was at a time when the Southside was under threat from a planned six-lane motorway cutting right through the area, and a major expansion of the University of Edinburgh which would have obliterated many residential streets. The Southside Association is still going strong 42 years on, and we’re now getting together with other local groups and residents to discuss the student housing situation.
There will be a public meeting on Sunday, July 20, at Nelson Hall, Spittalfield Crescent, on the corner of St Leonard’s Street and Bernard Terrace.
• Lisa Sibbald is chairwoman of The Southside Association