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The party, which has partnered with Labour to run the capital since the last vote in 2017, launched its 2022 local election manifesto today (April 16).
Group leader Adam McVey described the manifesto as “a very robust set of plans from the SNP delivering on climate change aspirations, reducing poverty, tackling the Tory cost of living crisis and improving our core services, and I think that our prospectus is by far the strongest of any party to deliver that.”
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Cllr McVey, who is still the council leader until the beginning of May, said the plans set out in the manifesto will work to make Edinburgh “fairer, cleaner and greener”.
He added the most significant of all the pledges being made by the SNP in Edinburgh are new housing policies, including plans to introduce rent controls in the private rented sector.
“A rent control is about making sure rents remain fair,” Cllr McVey explained. “If somebody goes in to a private tenancy it’s about making sure that rents are not increasing underneath their feet to the point that it prices them out of their own home.”
Asked how such a policy would work in practice, Cllr McVey said: “We’ll need to see exactly the shape of the legislation, but there are properties that are being charged at astronomical levels and we need to do is stop those rents increasing in inflation-busting terms.”
The party’s promise to fix Edinburgh’s housing crisis includes a commitment to spend £2 billion on building and maintaining council houses over the next ten years, as well as returning thousands of properties currently rented as short-term lets (STLs) to residential use.
Enforcement of the recently agreed city ‘control zone’ will require thousands to apply for planning permission for whole properties being rented out as STLs. The manifesto states permission will only be granted under “exceptional circumstances” and that any request to change a home into a short-term let in the city will be treated the same as a demolition of that property.
Cllr McVey said he hopes this will bring “as many properties as possible” back into the housing market.
“We have a housing crisis in the city, there’s no getting away from that. We can’t afford to lose residential homes whether it’s lose them to demolition or lose them to become short-term lets and in terms of our housing market it’s the same thing,” he added.
“There are circumstances that mean they are approved, so for example a ten bedroom estate house somewhere in the city may be more appropriate as a large-scale short-term let than a traditional domestic house with the way people live now. So there are properties that applicants will be able to make a case for and it’s up to them to make that case.”
In response to the cost of living crisis, he added funds would be set aside for those “who are most affected”. In addition, investments would be made to make the local authority’s housing stock more energy-efficient, with a commitment to have all council houses retrofitted over the next ten years.
Another key pledge made in the 36-page manifesto is the introduction of a ‘tourist tax’ charging visitors staying in hotels, Airbnbs and bed and breakfasts a minimum £2 extra per night, capped at £14.
Edinburgh SNP councillors would also give the go-ahead to two new tram lines, one to Granton and another to the Royal Infirmary, as well as an extra £120 million for maintaining roads and pavements.
And whilst the SNP’s net zero by 2030 target was branded “impossible” in the Conservative election manifesto, Cllr McVey said the council will be on track to achieve it if the party is returned to power.
He said: “The Elephant in the room with the Conservatives’ manifesto is they are not setting a date at all, they’re kicking climate change into the back burner. We do not have that kind of time. Edinburgh needs to be ahead of the Scottish target and the UK target if either government are going to hit those.
“The Centre for Climate Innovation have done a huge piece of work on what Edinburgh would need to do to change.
“We need to de-carbonise our transport system and that means lower-emitting bus fleets in the city and zero-emitting bus fleets of new electric vehicles and we need to help facilitate those.
“Edinburgh’s already experiencing the impact of climate change – we’re seeing floods in July because we’re getting torrential rain that we didn’t have in previous years.”
He added the party has plans to introduce a congestion charge for people driving into the capital at peak times, with Edinburgh residents exempt from the levy, to encourage more people to use public transport to get in and out of the city.
An SNP-led administration in the next term would plant 150,000 new trees in Edinburgh and “close the gaps” in the city’s cycle network, according to the manifesto.
The expansion of Gaelic Medium Education (GME) is also listed as one of the party’s priorities.
However, no site has yet been agreed for Edinburgh’s first Gaelic high school, and parents remain frustrated that the commitment of a city centre building has effectively fallen through.
Cllr McVey said: “We need to go as far and as fast as we can but that really requires us to get the right plan agreed which we’ll hopefully do early in the next administration.”
“We’ve looked at literally every possible site in the city and explored it to the absolute fullest. We need to remember the pressures that we’re up against on this; Gaelic Medium Education in high school has increased by more than 50 per cent in the last five years, that’s a huge increase. This is proving increasingly popular in the city and we need to deliver the right school to encourage and facilitate that.”