Fears over holiday lets and student flats in Old Town

MSPs have voiced concern over the low number of permanent residents in Edinburgh's Old Town. Picture: Ian Georgeson.
MSPs have voiced concern over the low number of permanent residents in Edinburgh's Old Town. Picture: Ian Georgeson.
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A CITY MSP has called for new controls over the growing number of holiday lets and student flats in the Old Town.

Lothian Green MSP Andy Wightman used a debate at Holyrood on Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site to urge the Scottish Government to include measures in its proposed Planning Bill to ensure “some democratic control” over the use made of properties in sensitive areas.

He said: “There is increasing concern about the number of properties, particularly in the Old Town, that are no longer used as primary residences.

“One constituent I met last week is the only resident in their tenement stair in the Grassmarket – the rest of the flats are used for parties, Airbnb rentals, holiday lets and so on.

“In the Planning Bill, we will have an opportunity to introduce new use class orders to ensure that the council has some democratic control over how property is used and can limit or expand, as it chooses, the uses to which properties are put.

“I am talking not just about primary residences and holiday residences but about student accommodation, retirement accommodation and so on. That would mean far greater control over and scrutiny of the use of properties in places such as the Old Town.”

Lothian Tory MSP Gordon Lindhurst, who sponsored the debate, quoted a recent report which showed 72 per cent of 202 properties surveyed needed some sort of repair.

“The upkeep of private property is as essential to Edinburgh’s world heritage site status as the need to have managed change,” he said.

Edinburgh Northern and Leith SNP MSP Ben Macpherson said Edinburgh attracted four million visitors a year, with tourism generating £1.32 billion and there was a need to “treasure” the city.

“We need to think about how we preserve the city in the context of mistakes that have been made in the past,” he said. “In previous decades, there were plans to build an inner ring road through Edinburgh. Thankfully, that idea was put to one side.”

Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said World Heritage status should not be considered as an impediment or obstacle to modern development, but rather “a creative challenge”.

He said: “The challenge for all involved in planning and development in our city is how to preserve and maintain our world heritage site in tandem with expanding our economy in a fast-growing city where more and more people want to come to visit, live and invest. Those things are not mutually exclusive and we must aim for a sustainable and successful co-existence between them.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said a balance needs to be struck between the needs of residents, visitors and economic development as well as conservation.

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage said they were “delighted” with the support voiced from all sides.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com