One of Scotland’s most successful authors has warned the mass influx of tourists to Edinburgh is at risk of “tearing up the fabric of the city”.
Best-selling crime novelist Val McDermid says it has become over-run due to the number of properties used for short-term holiday lets. And she believes a lack of regulation is running the risk of an entire tenement block burning down.
The author, who lives in the Capital’s New Town, said on BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View programme that the “sheer scale of tourism on a shoestring” was destroying the very thing people craved when they travelled to a city.
McDermid – who said she was in favour of a tourist tax being introduced in Edinburgh – insisted she did not want to come across as “a nimby whinge”, but had seen an unwelcome transformation of her neighbourhood.
She said: “Walking through the New Town, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon – serried ranks of security key boxes fixed to the door jams like giant digital Mezuzahs. We often wake to the sound of wheelie cases trundling down our normally quiet street.
“I’m not being a dog in the manger. I don’t hate tourists. Quite the opposite – I relish the vibrant energy that engulfs Edinburgh every August, the month when every day is a festival. I enjoy the babel of languages in the streets; I appreciate the over-stuffed restaurants and bars make enough money in those four weeks to ensure they’re open all year round for my pleasure.
“But I also want to live in a community where neighbours nod a greeting as they pass, where local schools survive because there are enough local children, where people spend their money in shops where the staff recognise customers and enjoy a chat. I’m happy to see visitors to my streets as long as the presence doesn’t tear up the fabric of the city.”
McDermid compared Edinburgh to several other cities, including Barcelona, Venice and Reykjavik, which she said had become “intolerable” for locals.
She added: “It seems to me that the sheer scale of tourism on a shoestring is destroying the very thing we crave when we travel: an immersion in another culture and an experience that is different from anything you will find at home.
“These days our great cities are year-round destinations and there is no let-up. Local protest movements are springing up all over Europe and beyond. People are angry at the impact on their lives but also their wider culture. When the hordes arrive, cultural simplification is seldom far behind. Authenticity is always trumped by accessibility.”
City council leader Adam McVey, who backs a tourist tax, said: “Every summer, we welcome the world to share in our festival spirit.
“But with that popularity, success and acclaim, comes pressure on our core services and on the people who live and work here – and we’re clear on our responsibility to manage that impact.”