Call for review of student housing rules in Edinburgh

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PLANNING chiefs are being urged to review controls on student housing developments after it was revealed a bid to balance them by the inclusion of mainstream residential accommodation had failed to produce any extra homes.

Rules introduced by the city council more than two years ago require that sites of more than 0.25 hectares – about half a football pitch – where student flats are proposed must include at least 50 per cent general housing.

Artists impression of the student flat development where the Scotmid currently is on Gorgie Road

Artists impression of the student flat development where the Scotmid currently is on Gorgie Road

But ten of the 11 student housing schemes approved since then have been on sites below that size and the eleventh involved the conversion of an office block where planners accepted inclusion of mainstream homes was not practical.

The result is the policy has so far produced no new permanent homes. And concerns have been raised the developers may be deliberately targeting smaller sites to dodge the requirement.

One council insider said student accommodation schemes previously tended to be on sites above the threshold.

The Greens said if the policy, which came into effect in February 2016, was not having the desired effect it should now be reviewed and the threshold for requiring general housing potentially lowered.

A major increase in new-build student accommodation in the Capital in recent years has sparked concerns about too big a transient population in certain parts of the city changing the nature of the area, as well as problems with noise and antisocial behaviour.

The number of bed spaces has grown from 10,498 in 2010 to 18,988 in 2017.

Green housing spokesperson Councillor Susan Rae said: “Edinburgh is a city with four universities. Students need to have somewhere to live and there is a good argument for well-managed, suitably-located and affordable student housing as opposed to being scattered across tenements with badly-managed, poor quality private lets.

“However, the sheer scale of growth in student housing, at almost 10,000 bed spaces in less than a decade, is staggering. And people are understandably worried that it is crowding out other vital needs like affordable permanent housing.

“So what is needed is balance. That is why the council brought in a policy to require future student developments to be 50/50 student accommodation and permanent housing. If, as it seems, the detail of the policy is not working then it needs reviewed and changed as soon as possible so that the aim of better balance is actually delivered.”

Planning convener Councillor Neil Gardiner said: “This policy has been successful in dispersing the student population across the city, avoiding over concentration in individual communities.

“We regularly review our non-statutory planning 
guidelines and we will be consulting on our new ‘City Plan’ in early 2019.

“This will provide another opportunity to look at student housing across the city.”