Edinburgh housing crisis: Heritage chiefs slam ‘over-dominance’ of student flats plans for Holyrood area

The site once used as a bus depot could see another 289 student rooms built.
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Heritage chiefs have slammed amended plans for more student flats near the city centre, claiming the development would result in an ‘over-dominance’ of student accommodation.

Plans for the site on a former bus depot would see 289 student rooms built, including 65 four and five-bedroom flats and 224 studio bedrooms. Three ‘affordable housing’ units would be delivered as well as three three-bed townhouses and a ground floor space for a commercial or community unit.

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But the Cockburn Assocation has objected to the plans, saying that the three housing units are ‘out of whack’ with a scheme dominated by student housing. It comes after the original plans lodged as part of the New Waverley Masterplan development for build-to-rent homes were scrapped, following the introduction of a rent freeze in September 2022.

Photo: Brindley AssociatesPhoto: Brindley Associates
Photo: Brindley Associates

Original plans to build 87 residential units including three storey townhouses have since been replaced with a higher concentration of student accommodation. Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association said: “This development now has a massive 289 bedrooms for students, which puts additional pressures on local communities who already feel under siege with the level of student accommodation in the area.

"We understand the student housing crisis but it needs to be balanced. There has been no student housing needs assessment to consider the impact on displacement. And the quality of the architecture has been watered down and cheapened too. Clearly they are looking to maximise profitability. But we should expect a more balanced scheme to include more mainstream housing, as was the original plan for this site. Only then would we consider withdrawing our objection.”

Applicant Vita Group, whose mission is to ‘revolutionise student accommodation in the UK’ has developed several student housing sites across the UK including PBSA at Fountainbridge with a second Edinburgh location in Leith.

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The new student accommodation would join the nearby Student Roost. The University of Edinburgh’s Holyrood South accommodation is also located nearby, along with the Unite Students Sugarhouse Close building.

A statement from the Cockburn Assocation said: “We have objected to this planning application. We note that there is an existing planning approval for this site. However, we believe that over-dominance of student accommodation in the current application is undesirable and will not support the social, economic and environment sustainability of the Old Town.

“We acknowledge that the proposed development is of a similar scale as the development which has approval for this site. But its taller, characterless, more monolithic appearance is at odds with the rest of the New Waverley development and with the architecture of the Old Town more generally.

“Student accommodation may be acceptable on this site. but only as part of a part of a mixed-use development which conforms to City Plan 2030 and which includes affordable housing, commercial and community community spaces and appropriate climate-ready landscaping and green space.

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“The three housing units in the current proposal are clearly out of place and inconsistent with a scheme which is now entirely dominated by student housing.”

The site is situated within the boundary of both the UNESCO Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site and the Old Town Conservation Area. Developers have been contacted for comment.

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