Small business owners blast council for ‘hypocrisy’ over former HQ leased as luxury holiday apartments

Council-owned building leased for luxury holiday apartments at £3,000 a week branded ‘galling’ while licensing scheme goes ahead.
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Furious small business owners in the Capital have accused the council of ‘hypocrisy’ for pressing ahead with plans to regulate airbnb style lets, while it has leased one of it’s buildings for luxury holiday apartments.

The council is bringing in a licensing scheme to cut the number of properties in the city that are used as short-term holiday lets. Self catering properties, bed and breakfasts and other short term letting accommodation have until October 1 to apply for a licence to operate or stop trading.

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But local businesses have hit out at the council for profiting from ‘prime real estate’ in the Old Town, after it emerged its former HQ redeveloped into holiday let apartments was expanded at the time the clampdown was announced.

Reception area of the Cheval Old Town Chambers apartment complexReception area of the Cheval Old Town Chambers apartment complex
Reception area of the Cheval Old Town Chambers apartment complex

The refurbished building on the High Street which the council leased to a property company for development is now home to Cheval Old Town Chambers where a deluxe, served apartment costs more than £3k for a week, with extra for packages with champagne and ‘pet pampering’.

It houses luxury, deluxe, and open plan studio apartments with views onto the Royal Mile and Princes Street, as well as 24-hour fitness centre, and a restaurant managed by the Bon Vivant Group, the company behind Edinburgh venues such as The Devil’s Advocate and El Cartel.

In August 2021 plans were announced to extend the complex with a further 24 luxury apartments, after the historic building was leased to property company Chris Stewart Group bringing the number of short and long term lets in the development to 75. On the same day the council announced plans for a crackdown on holiday letting, amid concerns about depleting housing stock and antisocial behaviour.

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Ralph Averbuch, who has run self-catering units in the heart of the city since 2005, said small businesses are outraged. He said: “It's more than a little galling to local self catering operators to watch the city council act as judge, jury & executioner whilst directly profiting from what's ostensibly a joint venture to convert prime real estate in the heart of the royal mile into the most expensive short-term lets there are in the capital. It’s hypocrisy. Smaller, local businesses are being shut down while corporate investors takeover.”

Ralph Averbuch criticised council crackdown on short-term letsRalph Averbuch criticised council crackdown on short-term lets
Ralph Averbuch criticised council crackdown on short-term lets

Another self-catering business owner based near the Old Town chambers luxury apartments said: “Our flat looks directly on to this. We will not be able to operate after the end of September as we will be refused planning but this is permitted. One responsibly run unit is apparently bad but many are fine. It’s sickening. We will be applying for a license but the planning consultants think we have very little chance.”

It comes after some aspects of the plan to regulate Airbnb-style lets in Edinburgh were ruled unlawful by a judge, following a crowdfunded court challenge by operators and landlords opposed to the scheme.

The council has defended the Old Town Chambers development as in keeping with the clampdown, since it’s not taking homes off the market.

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Officials told the Evening News it agreed a 125 year lease on the buildings in 2017, four years before the policy was announced. The council received £3 million payment and annual rent of £1 a year.

Cllr James Dalgliesh, Planning Convener, said:

“Our approach to short term lets in Edinburgh has always been to clamp down on poorly managed properties – those lets which have taken much needed homes out of the market, may be unsafe and are often causing local residents to suffer anti-social behaviour. Whereas the building at 329 High Street converts disused office space – not homes – into a well-managed mixed-use building which supports jobs, includes retail space and a restaurant, and significantly preserves the façade of a prominent historical building on the Royal Mile. This was also agreed six years ago, in 2017.”

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