STUDENT populations will be allowed to soar in parts of the city under plans for a major relaxation of planning rules – sparking warnings that communities could be “destroyed”.
Changes are set to be made to the city council’s policy on purpose-built housing which limits student numbers to no more than 30 per cent of the population in specific districts.
The revised guidelines released for consultation contain proposals which could see the ceiling raised to 40 per cent in areas close to “defined” town centres such as Leith Walk. And the limit would be hiked to 50 per cent in neighbourhoods within 800 metres’ walking distance of a university campus.
The move comes after council decisions to reject proposed student housing in Lutton Court and St Leonard’s Street – which would lead to populations of at least 60 per cent – were overturned after developers appealed to the Scottish Government’s planning directorate.
City leaders said that, in light of these rulings, it was no longer “appropriate” to maintain the 30 per cent ceiling.
Large-scale student housing has been the subject of several campaigns and protests, particularly in the Southside, where concentrations in some areas are above 70 per cent.
Community leaders today said they were “dismayed” to hear of proposed changes.
Ted Thomson, 57, a Buccleuch Street resident and member of the Save Buccleuch Street and Meadow Lane Edinburgh campaign, warned that the revised guidance would have a destructive effect on neighbourhoods.
He said: “I think [the council and developers] really do not care about people – it’s all about money, big business, profit, and that’s it.
“We have students screaming up and down the street at three, four, five o’clock in the morning. They’re bellowing and shouting – drunk.
“We are completely disregarded in every respect. We don’t have a community now – communities here are dying.”
Councillor Joanna Mowat, Conservative member for the city centre, said: “I’m deeply uncomfortable that we’re saying 50 per cent.
“My plea is that we look very hard at the consultation responses. And we need to ask the universities to comment on what their plans are for the increase in student numbers.”
However, student leaders said there was a growing need for housing and stressed that many young people wanted to be part of their communities.
Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president, said: “Finding a place to stay can be extremely difficult and too many students have to deal with astronomical rents and poor living conditions.
“We know there is a real need for safe, good quality and affordable student housing in Edinburgh. Students don’t just want to feel like a part of their local communities, but also make a great contribution to the places where they live.”
An Edinburgh University spokesman said higher education was “a key contributor to Edinburgh’s economic wellbeing”.
“We also share the council’s ambitions for sustainable communities, safeguarding social cohesion, community safety and a sense of place.
“In this context, purpose-built and affordable student housing can be a positive way to reduce the pressures that economic growth generates on the availability of HMO properties and the wider residential housing stock.”
Councillor Ian Perry, planning leader, said: “The difficulty is that we’ve had [Scottish Government] reporters advising us that 60 per cent [student concentration] is acceptable.
“So a discussion with that office is crucial – not only in relation to the number that we’ve got in [our consultation] but the flexibility we have.”