Party flats!

Sounds good doesn’t it?  Party flats – what is to object to about that?

In Edinburgh, everything.  Party flats have become synonymous with very short-term lets (over a weekend typically) in which lots of intoxicated men or women cram into a flat and cause utter chaos for neighbours.  They are frequently part of stag or hen “dos”, attracted to the city by its reputation as a “destination” for such heart-warming gatherings.  The owners, needless to say, are remote, often hard to reach and seldom concerned at what is happening at their properties, despite it being a source of massive profit to them.

It is not a problem which affects every street.  But there are several locations in or near the city centre where it is causing utter misery for residents and has been going on too long.

Part of the problem is a wider one.  In some parts of the city new flats have been built on land bought at the top of the market (around 2007 or 2008) and are being marketed at prices well in excess of what people can afford.  Hardly surprisingly, then, they are sitting empty and, now, I am told some are being let onto the short-term holiday market.  In a city which has a real housing shortage this is a concern and I also quite understand those local residents who feel they were told that a new development would bring new families into an area, supporting local shops and local schools, only to discover it is being used for something very different.  We need, as a city, to look at planning conditions to ensure that specific developments are used only for the purposes for which they got planning consent.

But that is a wider and quite distinct issue from party flats.  Edinburgh has thousands of holiday lets, most of which are let out for a week or more and few generate real problems.  It is the one or two night lets which cause chaos.

That is why I am nervous about suggestions that we introduce a new form of licensing regime to deal with party flats.  All my experience tells me that when a new regime is created an awful lot of effort goes into maintaining the regime itself rather than dealing with the activity which it is supposed to address.  The actual impact on the problem can be, at best, ambiguous and even counter-productive.  There’s a danger we get diverted into looking at a service design solution that might take years to effect and with the same basic problem of action remaining.

What residents want, quite rightly, to see is action to tackle the problems and that is an enforcement issue.  If we have the powers to deal with the problems – and I believe we do – then let’s get on and use them.  If there are failures of will, of co-ordination with police and fire services, or communication – and I am certain there have been – then let’s address these.  Having taken all of these steps if we find they come up short  then let’s then look at wider changes in planning or even lobbying for further legal change.

That is why I want to see a focused task force dealing with this problem with a specific remit to take legal steps against some of the worst offenders over the next few weeks and for those cases to be well-publicised. Whatever system we have always boils down to public authorities taking firm, effective and swift action.  If we can do that then other owners will get sent the right signals and residents, at last, can have some confidence that the Council is on their side.