Edinburgh is one of the greatest university cities in Europe. It has six diverse university campuses with a student population of some 27,000. Numbers are growing every year.
Student accommodation now presents a major challenge. But local residents are reluctant to see parts of the city turned into student ghettoes, with high concentrations of student numbers creating a harmful imbalance for local communities. In the Southside, the student population is already in excess of 60 per cent. At present city council policy on purpose-built housing is to limit student numbers to no more than 30 per cent of the population in specific districts. But now it is looking at relaxing the rules on the number of student flats allowed to 50 per cent in some areas.
This is a difficult balancing act. The city needs to retain its appeal as an outstanding centre for learning. The universities make an important contribution to Edinburgh’s economy, students actively contribute to the social and cultural fabric of the city, and the academic diversity makes the city a magnet for international conferences and events.
But council decisions to reject proposed student housing in already crowded student areas have been overturned after developers appealed to the Scottish Government.
So it has had to rethink the 30 per cent ceiling. Clearly new rules are necessary lest we limit campus development to soulless tower blocks on the outer perimeter.
But the council also has to have regard to the worries of residents who fear that their areas are being over-run. Large-scale student housing has already been the subject of campaigns and protests.
The way forward from here lies in the council, university bodies and the Scottish Government working together to see how these conflicting pressures can be reconciled and the concerns of residents met by thoughtful planning.