Victoria Park House Hotel to become HMO amid 'smear campaign' from residents
COUNCILLORS have approved plans to turn a hotel into a 30-bed House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) – as the owner hit out at a “smear campaign” after being forced to liquidate his family businesses.
Davide De Gaetano, owner of the Victoria Park House Hotel, secured the unanimous support of Edinburgh City Council’s development management sub-committee for his proposals.
The plans tallied up 156 objections from members of the public who raised concerns about increased parking, noise pollution for neighbours and anti-social behaviour. But councillors unanimously gave the proposals the thumbs up as there was no reason in planning rules to reject it.
Ward Cllr Lewis Ritchie, who had formally called for an official hearing to take place, rubbished a report by planning officers that recommended the change of use application for approval.
He said: “It states that 30 students coming and going at all hours of the day will somehow have a lesser impact on amenity than a small number of hotel guests coming to and from their accommodation. This simply has no basis in reality whatsoever.
“It’s clear to me that this development will result in a materially detrimental impact on the living conditions of nearby residents – and for that reason alone, cannot be supported.”
Concerned residents were also given the chance to put their case across to councillors.
Fiona McLean, who lives next-door to the hotel, said: “I am extremely concerned about such a large HMO being planned for an area which is already over-subscribed with similar accommodation.
“To me this feels that a purely speculative venture, driven by maximising financial return – with no regard for the local community nor any potential tenants..”
But Mr Gaetano explained why the hotel has become unvialbe to keep going.
He said: “The future is tough for small independents like ourselves. Although Edinburgh is still very much in demand for tourists, extra bedrooms and Airbnb properties have driven down the average room rate by 30 per cent.
“This pressure resulted in June of this year, having to take the decision to put our company into liquidation after 15 years – with losses of over £100,000 and making five staff redundant.
“We believe the only way to change the fortune of our business is to change our strategy by offering short to medium term self catering accommodation. Our target market will be clients who wish to stay between one and five months – including short-term contractors, exchange students and people who are working and looking for longer-term accommodation.”
He added: “Last year the hotel had 40,000 people through its door. Concerns that parking will be made worse by our plans is simply ridiculous.”
Mr Gaetano also hit out at “a smear campaign that included door-to-door canvassing” that was able to “whip up unfounded, wrongful, hurtful accusations”.
He added: “I heard rumours we were going to house drug addicts, alcoholics, refugees, people who have been abused and students.
“The hotel just simply isn’t profitable. Surely everybody has a right to change the course of their business if it is failing?”
The hotel currently contains 10 bedrooms, as well as a large function hall, the Gosford Bar and a residents’ bar and restaurant. The existing bedrooms have a capacity of 23 – but this will be bumped up to 30 across 19 bedrooms – with the bars and restaurants being converted into extra sleeping space.
Mr Gaetano will need to apply for a HMO licence before it can operate as such.
Planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner said: “On planning grounds, there isn’t sufficient grounds to turn this down.
“The proprietor raised the impact of Airbnb. We look forward to legislation to tackle that as soon as possible.”