Community fury at plan to turn Edinburgh Old Town offices into holiday lets

126 Canongate which is at the centre of an AirBnB argument. Picture: Greg Macvean

Plans to convert Old Town offices into Airbnb-style short term lets have been blasted – amid claims an influx has led to “a ghost town with nothing but crowds of budget tourists”.

The row emerged as plans have been submitted by developers to transform offices at the Canongate on the Royal Mile into 11 commercially managed short term let apartments.

In a scathing attack on the impact of short term lets in the city centre, Bill Cowan, Old Town Community Council’s planning and transport secretary, has warned that the rise of Airbnb has “already critically damaged local amenity and liveability for actual residents of the Old Town”.

He added: “Local shops have become cafes, local pubs have become venues, late night noise and litter have become unbearable for families with children. Due to so many of this type of conversion, there is also a shortage of affordable office space for small businesses and organisations. This has severely impacted employment in the Old Town.

“What makes Edinburgh so good is that it is a living city. This rampant commercial exploitation only leads to a ghost town with nothing but tourists.”

The Canongate applicant says the short term lets, if approved, would be managed by a “reputable and experienced property management company”.

David Petrie, involved in the project, said: “The existing use as offices is difficult to sustain due to the physical constraints of the building.

“The aim is to deliver a very high quality, professionally managed and serviced residence, complementing the mixed use nature of the area.

“We are proposing to maintain a commercial unit on the ground floor fronting Canongate to maintain and improve the interest and diversity of uses on the street.”

But heritage watchdog, the Cockburn Association, has officially objected to the proposals. Terry Levinthal, Cockburn Association director, said: “Recent appeal decisions and enforcement actions in the city have made it clear short-term holiday let (STHL) accommodation is not a residential land-use.

“The simple fact is that the Old Town’s communities are under threat due to the enormous unregulated and 
uncontrolled expansion of STHL use. We would welcome the use of the building for residential purposes.”

Housing and economy convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, said: “The impact of short term lets in Edinburgh is damaging. They are reducing housing supply, hollowing out communities, and creating antisocial behaviour in some areas.

“What we really need is a licensing regime so that we can properly control the concentration, the type of property, the overall number across the city and make sure that landlords are fit and proper.”

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