Southside residents fear student flats plans rise

Student housing. See the Map Key below.
Student housing. See the Map Key below.
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A SUMMIT to discuss soaring numbers of student developments planned for Southside has been called amid fears they will erode the district’s sense of community.

Long-running concerns about an over-saturation of students have escalated in recent weeks following a “flurry” of planning applications to build accommodation.

Students contribute �1.8 billion towards the Scottish GDP. 'Picture:  Jane Barlow

Students contribute �1.8 billion towards the Scottish GDP. 'Picture: Jane Barlow

It comes as developer Unite Students is poised to submit a bid to build a 579-bed complex on St Leonard’s Street by demolishing the current Homebase DIY store, while Edinburgh University has outlined plans to create more student housing on Meadow Lane and Buccleuch Place, yards from its George Square campus.

Paramount Printers and Melford Developments have also tabled proposals to build around 187 student residences in a Causewayside printing ­office.

But while a bid to create a 237-bed student hub at Lutton Court was turned down in March, an appeal has now been lodged with the Scottish Government. Now in an echo of the 1970s Save Our Southside campaign – launched in reaction to plans to demolish buildings and create more university ­developments – existing residents are rallying together and have called a meeting with politicians to try to curb the level of student ­accommodation.

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore has joined forces with the Southside Association to stage a meeting about the growing number of student projects.

The Labour politician said the flood of planning applications – that would establish an extra 1000 student beds in the Southside – have worried residents who believe the student population “will heavily outnumber that of long-term residents who remain in the area”.

She said: “This is in an area densely populated with students in purpose-built and HMO accommodation.

“Existing residents, including students who live here, enjoy the vibrancy of the area, a fostered population mix of families, elderly residents and students.”

The council operates a policy which limits student populations to no more than 30 per cent in specific areas.

Mrs Gilmore urged Scottish ministers to heed the policy when considering the Lutton Court appeal.

It is hoped the open discussions will prompt university and council chiefs to strike a deal on future student development.

Lisa Sibbald, of the Southside Association – a group originally formed in the 1970s to fight the university’s expansion plans – will chair the July 20 meeting.

The number of student residencies was “getting out of hand”, she said. “There’s a huge amount of interest in this,” said Mrs ­Sibbald.

“I have lived in Southside for 20 years, when students were living in Southside – but now we are living in a student community. It’s taking away the community.”

Planning expert Robin Holder said supply was fuelling ­demand.

“I don’t think you’d have developers wanting to provide these unless there was a need,” he said.

“Students come with a reputation of being out late at night but every planning application should come with its own merits. We have got to give some thought to the cumulative ­effect.

“It seems to me that students create quite a vibrant community.

“What the planning authority has really got to consider is – will developing these sites have a harmful impact on the character of the area or the amenity of existing residents? If the answer to that is no, they should be granting planning permission assuming the detail of the proposal is acceptable.”

He added: “We generally have an under supply of rental accommodation.

“We need to provide more housing of all types of tenure, including student houses.”

According to recent National Union of Students (NUS) research, students contribute £1.8 billion towards the Scottish gross domestic product (GDP) and their spending supports approximately 109,000 jobs across the country.

NUS Scotland’s vice-president of communities Kirsty Haigh said students were a valuable part of the community as a whole.

“We know that students want to feel like a part of their local community, and also that they make a huge social and economic contribution to the place they live in over the duration of their course,” she said.

“The presence of students can be particularly valuable in less wealthy areas, as they spend a large portion of their income in local businesses.

“In addition to their contribution to local economies, students are active volunteers in their communities. Nearly a third of students volunteer, and many of them prefer to work with local charities and schools.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Edinburgh, who also highlighted the economic benefits students bring, said: “As our student body grows, so does the need for accommodation to house them.

“We hold regular consultations with local community groups to ensure they are aware of developments and take account of comments raised.”

Briana Pegado, president of the Edinburgh University Student Association, said that while students were residents for “shorter periods of time”, many see themselves as part of a community and have the ­“utmost respect for the neighbourhoods in which they live”.

A council spokeswoman said planning applications for student accommodation were checked against strict criteria, which include access to public transport, university facilities and the student population in any given area. She said: “In order to avoid an excessive concentration of student accommodation in any one area, census data and relevant development monitoring information are collated and used to calculate the total number of students as a percentage of the total population within a specific data zone.”

The public meeting will be held at Nelson Hall community centre, Spittalfield Crescent, on Sunday, July 20 from 6pm.

Map Key

1. Pollock Halls: 1756

2. Ascham Court: Two-storey houses

3. Richmond Place: 35 studio and one-bed apartments

4. New Arthur Place: 114 single rooms

5. Hermit’s Croft: 119 single rooms

6. Darroch Court: 175 single and two twin study bedrooms, with typically five rooms per flat

7. 38 South Clerk Street: 121 single study bedrooms. There are typically four, five and six rooms per flat

8. Morgan Court: 90 single bedrooms. Each flat has three, four or five bedrooms

9. 5 Nicolson Street: 50 single and eight twinned study bedrooms

10. Roxburgh Place: 59 single standard study bedrooms – there are typically 12 bedrooms in each flat

11. Sciennes: 212 single study bedrooms, with typically three, four, five or six rooms per flat

12. East Newington Place: 89 single study bedrooms, with three, four or five rooms per flat

13. Blackwood Crescent/ Causewayside)

14. Ratcliffe Terrace: 70 single bedrooms

15. Meadow Court: 148 single study bedrooms, with four, five or six rooms per flat

16. West Mains Road: 123 single study bedrooms. There are typically ten rooms per flat

17. Lady Nicolson Court (Unite Students)

What the residents think

We asked Southside residents on Twitter and Facebook for their views on the amount of student housing.

Angela Brattesani: “I was brought up on the Southside, and bought my first flat in Sciennes in the 90s. I look at the area and think how it seems to be like a ‘student ghetto’ and not so many families growing up in the area like I did.”

Lisa Sibbald: “There are many other areas of the city that could benefit from students moving in and bringing money into the local shops, cafes, etc. The Southside has too many students - the percentage is over the council’s guidelines. ”

Keith Smith: “Southsiders are an endangered species and the area will surely become known as University in the near future. For the past two decades every development has been for the university and the community is becoming imbalanced between long-stay and short-stay residents. Students should be a part of the community and not spatially separated from other residents.”

Sammy Wilson: “Believe it or not the vast majority of students live responsibly and socially just like everyone else and to blame every incident of littering or antisocial behaviour on students is incredibly short-sighted.”

Wladek Wolanski: “I remember when the streets of the Southside were filled with families. Decent quality shops and something of a community spirit. Sadly no longer the case.”

Graeme Anderton: “They should be building more affordable housing for the people who work and live in Edinburgh. Never mind the students they have hundreds of flats in the city centre already. We should focus on the housing shortage. There is not enough decent housing.”

Louise @louchristison: “Not happy that they’re getting rid of Homebase for more student flats, think there needs to be more housing for families.”