Sheila Gilmore: Consultation should create balance

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The City of Edinburgh Council is about to start a consultation with community councils and other organisations, including the Southside Association and Living Southside, concerning Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). Those groups will be eager to respond to the consultation. They are keen to see a broad review of the way in which policies can be co-ordinated to promote and maintain balanced residential communities across our city.

Edinburgh has a history of having a strong stable population in its centre, which in turn supports local businesses, facilities and schools. However, a key reason is often cited when long-term residents move out: tenement living has changed because there are too many HMOs.

The key issue is balance. New legislation in 2011 introduced the power to restrict the numbers of HMOs if there was over-provision. I was disappointed Edinburgh council appeared to be taking a narrow interpretation of this. A recent report prepared for councillors looked solely at levels of demand and the state of the market. It appeared to conclude that if there was ongoing demand for such accommodation there could not be over-provision. Interestingly, other major councils have interpreted the meaning of over-provision somewhat differently. In adopting a broader view of the meaning of the legislation, for example, Dundee City Council has adopted a policy stating that if, in certain defined areas, there are more than 12.5 per cent of properties licensed as HMO this is deemed to be over-provision. The fact there is a need and demand for such accommodation – from low-paid workers to young professionals, not just students – should not rule out dealing with over-provision.

It is, of course, up to every council to reach its own view on whether an over-provision policy should be adopted, either for their whole area, or for small parts of it. Any such policy decision must be co-ordinated with other departments, be widely consulted upon, and rely on findings from across Scotland. We have to start weighing up arguments about HMO with an eye on the objectives of other council departments. There may well be a need for more such accommodation, but there is also a need to look at the impact in some areas to quality of life.

Sometimes council actions contradict other policies which support communities. With residents keen to work with the council and others to help co-ordinate policy, I hope this consultation process will be the first step to achieve greater residential balance.

Sheila Gilmore is Labour MP for Edinburgh East