MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith
Preserve and build hand in hand
Recently – along with many other people in Leith – I was so pleased to welcome strong action by the Scottish Government to better regulate short-term letting, and particularly tackle problems around whole property short-term letting.
As I have been pushing for since being elected, the new regulations will allow Edinburgh Council to establish designated areas where planning permission will be needed before properties can be rented out.
The regulations will also ensure that properties are better maintained - they will have to meet safety requirements, commit to tackling littering and ensure that they are not overcrowded. There will be a review of how short-term let properties are taxed, to make sure owners pay their fair share for local services.
I understand how relieved many of my constituents will be to see their concerns so squarely addressed by the Scottish Government. This is an issue that I have been committed to tackling, along with SNP colleagues, and I’m confident that when these new regulations are implemented next year they will make a significant impact. And of course, the Scottish Government has also committed to bringing forward legislation to enable Councils to implement a ‘Tourist Tax’.
This all feels part of a wider conversation about how we balance the different needs of people who live in Leith. Many long-time residents rightly believe that local housing should be affordable enough to preserve a sense of community and allow Leithers and their families to buy or rent property nearby. Ensuring that fewer properties get tied up in the short-term rental market will help to do this. But I know that people are also concerned that if too many sites are taken up with large student housing blocks then that could mean that land is not being used to build residential housing.
Recently, a large student housing proposal was blocked, when the Scottish Government’s Planning Reporter backed Edinburgh Council’s refusal to over-develop Stead’s Place with student housing and demolish the sandstone block on Leith Walk.
I was overjoyed to see the hard work of the local Save Leith Walk campaign pay off, and was proud to have worked alongside them along with a number of other Leith politicians. I’m hopeful that a solution can now be found to preserve the block and build something more appropriate behind than a massive student housing block. However, in saying that, we should also be mindful that in general students can bring a lot of good to communities too.
With a couple of other developments proposed locally, I think we always need to look critically at any student development. However, we also need to make sure that we aren’t reacting too quickly. In some instances, a well constructed, sensibly placed student development, properly resourced with appropriate local services and transport links, can take some of the pressure off the student occupancy of local residential properties.
Good examples of student development see developers meaningfully listening to communities from the initial stage and, ideally, forming partnerships with housing associations to deliver affordable housing as part of their plans. Following the Save Leith Walk campaign’s success, I think we should continue to be wary of student housing proposals, but not indiscriminately dismissive.
We don’t want Leith to seem inadvertently unwelcoming to young, international students, or to be anti any development per se. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of student housing developments are profiteering junk that should be strongly opposed; but some student housing can also offer social value by bringing young people from all over the world into our community.
The Scottish Government has built social housing at a rate that is five times higher than in England, and I will keep working with colleagues to bring as much new social housing to Leith as we can. But I want students to feel welcome in Leith too.
The Save Leith Walk campaign has always rightly said that Leith isn’t in any way against students - Leith has always prided itself on being a diverse and welcoming place.
Students come from all across the globe to Edinburgh and add a great deal to the community, bringing a vibrant young energy to Leith and elsewhere. They come here to study and then often stay, making an important and significant contribution to our shared culture, economy and public services. They support small businesses by spending money locally and - if they can be encouraged to see themselves as part of the community – volunteer with local projects and concern themselves with local issues. Many students go on to make their homes in Leith and they add to our diverse and inclusive community, which we all love…
How often do you speak to a neighbour or a colleague and discover they first came to Edinburgh as a student? Let’s make sure that the next generation feel just as welcome.