A friend of mine recently announced he was moving house, flitting Leith in favour of the Kingdom of Fife, despite the fact his kids go to school here. When I asked why, he replied that he had been “priced out of Edinburgh, it’s a city that’s not for its residents”.
What a damning indictment of our Capital city. And unfortunately, he’s not the only one suffering from Edinburgh’s high housing costs. Private-sector rents have risen by more than 40 per cent in the last decade, according to Scottish Government figures.
Even council rents in Edinburgh are the highest in the country, more than 60 per cent above the Scottish average. Genuinely affordable housing is in desperately short supply.
And while it’s clear there are many factors impacting on high rents, it cannot be a coincidence that Scotland has seen a three-fold increase in holiday lets since 2016, and that in central Edinburgh there are two holiday lets for every 13 homes. We’ve seen an explosion of unregulated Airbnb and similar schemes.
So I warmly welcome the recent decision of Edinburgh’s planning committee that the whole of the city should be designated as a “short-term-let control area”. This means that if you want to run a holiday let in the city, you must apply for planning permission. This at last adds some element of control to a situation that has been out of control for too long.
This requirement won’t come into force immediately. The law requires the council to seek permission from the Scottish Government to introduce the measure. I very much hope that SNP ministers will not delay in approving this proposal.
But this move, while very welcome, will not solve the problem of holiday lets overnight. There are two further steps which, in my view, are crucial before we can start to get a proper grip of this sector.
The first is the introduction of a licensing scheme. Owners of holiday lets would need to apply for a license to run their business. This would ensure that they are a “fit and proper person” and don’t have a criminal past, for example. It would also check on important issues such as fire safety. That scheme is expected to be introduced in Edinburgh later this year.
And the second crucial step that’s needed to get an effective control of the sector is the introduction of the new City Plan with its policy against loss of housing to other uses.
Once that is in place, the planning committee can start to refuse planning applications for holiday lets which would lead to a loss of dwellings for residents.
Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a role for holiday lets in our city, since tourism and the festivals are such a big part of our economy and our city’s identity. But those holiday lets need to be effectively regulated to ensure they are not causing problems for residents, and, most importantly, we need to be able to control their number so they are no longer contributing to spiralling rents and house prices for residents.
And perhaps, if we’re able to get an effective grip of holiday lets, then we can actually have a city which is for its residents, and its visitors, after all.