Helen Martin: Being overrun by tourist hordes doesn’t tick any boxes – just ask Barcelona

NOT only is the opposition to Edinburgh’s over tourism building up, but council leader Adam McVey is now encouraging as many as possible to take part in the online consultation survey for the future. He said: ”Tell us your views and opinions, we want to hear them as part of the policy document we put forward.”

Monday, 2nd December 2019, 6:00 am
Princes Street Gardens has been taken over by the Underbelly festive market. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The first problem with that is the survey’s designed questions don’t go anywhere near the complaints that lead the way in public protest.

Those most affected live in the city centre. They can’t receive deliveries easily, they are subjected to instant festive structures that go up outside their homes with generators and noise throughout the night, their streets are mobbed and littered with road closures, their transport is limited, their neighbours leave and surrounding flats are let to tourists. Many now want to move out of the city.

Everyone in Edinburgh has lost our famous public garden, which was taken over by the Underbelly festive market, devoid of planning permission. With the market, fairgrounds, helter-skelters and big wheels, noise, smells, excessive lighting, generators and mobs, it is no longer a public park for relaxation. Nor is it “green” in terms of environmental care.

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Statues, monuments and architecture are overtaken with tat, blocked views, market construction and wiring. Our culture has been dropped in favour of open-air events, concerts, fairgrounds and screaming hordes.

There are no questions in the survey that cover all that. Nor is there an important question about whether or not the council is capable of managing this human flood and mess. No queries about ideas to encourage tourists to get out of Edinburgh’s compact centre and visit nice areas throughout the Lothians.

Most important of all, is that the council should look at how other cities in Europe have dealt with such disastrous tourist invasions.

Barcelona has a population of more than 1.6 million. It has eight million visitors a year – five tourists for every resident. Yes, this accounts for 12 per cent of Catalonia GDP, and 120,000 jobs in Barcelona.

But locals can no longer cope. Central residents are leaving their homes and high street businesses are moving out too. Locals claim their culture and identity is disappearing. So, what is the mayor and authority doing about this?

They’ve banned pub crawls and described the tourists they don’t want. Instead they encourage international events such as the Mobile World Congress which brings delegates, and those who visit to appreciate the city characteristics. They have limited tourist access to famous cultural attractions with security guards on patrol, and limited the number of tourists visiting special public parks. They issue up to 60,000 euro fines when it comes to Airbnb illegalities.

Three years ago they had a moratorium on tourist accommodation, stopping 30 hotels from going ahead, and blocking eight new tourism projects.

The money that poured in through the tourist industry caused increased corruption in several ways as it came above people’s welfare. So much so that a massive 800 hectare project that could have competed with EuroDisney and brought in millions, was abandoned.

There’s more, but that’s enough to make the point that tourism is not about catching up with European hot spots. It’s about learning from those cities who have already been through hell and have had to pull back. Edinburgh has to understand it’s already gone too far and this is not the time to build up the tourist sector. The revenue and jobs from it are NOT the most important things to value.

The survey is trivial box ticking. Saving Edinburgh and its citizens must come first.