Edinburgh Council Planning Control Zone – Dickins Response
On 23rd February 2022, Edinburgh Council voted through their Planning Control Zone. This means that people wanting to rent their homes as short term lets in the city will need to have change of use planning permission from residential to commercial. The Council have made it clear that they will not plan on granting permission to properties in tenement stairwells and to date have not done so. If you’ve been operating for 10 years, you’ll be able to continue. This is Dickins response to the Council’s decision. At the end, we’ll let you know how you can help.
Noise complaints – powers to tackle this already existed
Anyone who knows Edinburgh will know that there are an awful lot of homes in tenement stairwells. Councillors and MSP’s say they needed the planning control zone because they receive emails from people living in stairwells who were being disturbed by short term lets. No one thinks that there doesn’t need to be action if residents are being continually disturbed.
You wonder why then that the Council doesn’t appear to have used Anti Social Behaviour powers to tackle the noisy trouble makers? Why would introducing a Planning Control Zone to Edinburgh be the only or appropriate solution when it will also close legitimate small businesses that have been operating for less than ten years and have never caused a single issue for their neighbours?
Solving the housing crisis or just a misguided headline?
The councillors other argument is that by controlling short term lets with their Edinburgh Planning Control Zone, they’re solving the housing crisis. It’s a great headline isn’t it – We got rid of those pesky, noisy tourists and solved the housing crisis too! But, I’m not at all convinced that closing the short term lets along The Royal Mile will result in queues of families, retired people and others snaking along the pavements outside long term letting agents. Are you?
I completely doubt there will be a rush of folk keen to stake their claim to a fourth floor flat in an Old Town tenement with no outdoor space. Unless they have a penchant for bagpipes or shortbread as that’s pretty much the only food available in the local shops. Students may be interested. But they are very well catered for. Behind almost every bit of scaffolding in the city there’s another purpose built student housing block rising up. And are students the answer for the neighbour complaining about noise disturbance? My point is slightly tongue in cheek, but the essence of what I am saying is true.
None of the homes we look after could be described as housing stock, suitable for affordable housing. They are quality homes in a city which has some of the most beautiful homes in the world. In the majority of cases, the homes which Dickins manage are second homes, owned by people with an Edinburgh connection. And rather that having those homes sitting empty when the owners are not using them, they are being used and enjoyed. In our current world, making sure assets like properties are being fully used must surely be the correct focus?
I was recently a panel member on the Scottish Housing Policy Conference 2022 organised by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. This conference is focused on having a wide discussion on the Scottish Government’s current proposals for tenancy reforms – A New Deal for Tenants. One area of consensus was that the rental market is not homogenous. It is nuanced and has various sub markets. Not all tenancies or tenants are the same. Low income households renting social and affordable housing are not the same and do not have the same needs as affluent people renting high quality housing in Edinburgh.
If Edinburgh wants to solve their housing crisis – start building affordable homes in areas where people want to live. And if you don’t have enough money, start speaking to institutional investors about working together to actually create the change that is needed.
Can Edinburgh function without short lets?
Despite all the time which has gone by and their focus groups and consultations to ‘understand’ and ‘listen’ to the industry, I cannot see any evidence that Edinburgh Council has understood or values the vital role that short term lets play in the city. Certainly, my emails to the council planning department seeking a dialogue ahead of their decision were never responded too.
Dickins plays a vital part in the economy and ability of the city to function. Probably 75% of the bookings we do are non tourism related and connected to the economy of the city. We let homes to:-
- blue chip companies moving staff to Edinburgh.
- film companies housing staff during filming in the city.
- consulates needing to house scholars.
- individuals relocating to the city, especially from abroad, who need a temporary home until they can find something long term. Often long term letting agents won’t respond to them until they are here.
- local families who have to move out of their home temporarily whilst they have insurance or renovation work done.
- academics in the city temporarily working at the Universities here.
- arts organisations needing to house staff whilst they work/perform in the city.
- People working in the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.
These people have not chosen hotels or serviced accommodation that the council suggest is the answer. We searched for a one bedroom apartment in a serviced accommodation building in the Grassmarket this week and to rent one for March costs £6,400. No one comes to us with that kind of eye watering budget to rent a one bedroom apartment.
James Freeman of Scott’s Relocation said
“I run a relocation consultancy, Scott’s Relocation, which services the needs of various corporate clients and private individuals who are moving to Edinburgh & The Lothians from overseas for work. Our corporate clients are from a wide spectrum of industries and they all depend heavily on temporary accommodation for the transitional period after their employees arrive in the UK.”
We look after visitors to the city too. None of them have ever caused issues for neighbours. They are understandably offended that the council in the city they love believes them to be trouble. What message will Edinburgh be sending the world if we tell everyone, if you want to come here, we will dictate where you are able to stay as we don’t trust you in our homes? Edinburgh homes are amongst the most beautiful urban properties in the world. Of course, people want to experience them rather than a faceless, international hotel room where you could be anywhere in the world. Interestingly, on the day that the council purred with glee when they introduced the Planning Control Zone, they delighted in telling the world that a new Virgin hotel will be opening here this year. Lucky old Richard Branson. Shame all the hard working professionals working in my industry haven’t had the same thumbs up and support from our council. I am not alone in wondering where the council’s seeming obsession with multinational hotels stems from?
And as well as all the hard working professionals directly connected to short term letting in the city, what will happen to all the local businesses, shops and restaurants where guests spend their money? But the economy seems to matter not to all those councillors. That much is clear when this type of punitive, over the top plan wins their overwhelming support at a time when so many businesses have closed or are hanging on by a thread after two years of Covid 19.
Will this mark the beginning of the end for the Edinburgh Festival as we know it?
Council leader, Adam McVey who tweeted “Good step forward!” announcing the Planning Control Zone this week, previously said at an ETAG Conference that he loves the Festival and wants to protect it. Their plan is that you can rent your home for 28 days a year without needing to have a license. So, is that going to protect the Festival? I don’t think so. I think the opposite will happen. I’ve been letting homes in the Festival for 24 years, so I have a fairly good grasp of the needs and requirements. People needing to stay in Edinburgh in August because they’re performers, agents, producers or are connected to venues are normally here for more than 28 days. So I’m not sure where they’ll stay.
Arts organisations tend not to be awash with cash and that is especially true post Covid. If Edinburgh residents only opportunity to rent out their home license free is for 28 days a year what will they do? I’d imagine the answer in most cases will be to try and make as much money in those 28 days as they can. That won’t benefit artists in town because they’re part of putting on a show at all. In 2019 we wrote of a crisis facing the Edinburgh Festival. Edinburgh Council’s decision this week could easily mark the beginning of the end for the Festival as we know it as the city ceases to be able to accommodate the people here to put on the show.
An anti sustainable tourism stance is a strange one in this moment of climate crisis
In the past couple of years since Covid we have needed to holiday in our own shores. That’s not such a bad option when Scotland is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. Given the challenges of climate change, holidaying in the UK, and spending money which supports local economies is a sustainable way to travel and holiday. Why Edinburgh Council chooses this moment to significantly reduce the sustainable options available to visitors, especially families for whom self catering is so much more practical is bizarre.
So, what does the future hold? To be honest it looks bleak. Dickins will continue to try and have a dialogue with the council, pressing them to acknowledge that there are solutions. We’ll argue that a blanket ban on short term lets in the city is not appropriate because the impact on this magnificent city we love so much if that does happen will be seismic.
Edinburgh Council’s wish to create a Planning Control Zone of the whole city needs to be ratified by the Scottish Government. Our sense is what whilst Edinburgh Council is completely cognisant that their plan will close countless small professionally run businesses and do great harm to the economy of our city, Members of the Scottish Parliament do not. MSP’s don’t realise that Edinburgh’s plan is to significantly reduce short term lets by a blanket ban on homes in stairwells, reducing the supply of short let homes by around 90%. So, if you want to be able to travel to Edinburgh, staying in homes rather than hotels, please use your voice to let MSP’s know why you need/want to stay here and what you’d do if you were no longer able to stay in a home. The SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central is Angus Robertson and you can email him at [email protected] His Head of Comms is Michael Sturrock and you can get in touch with him via Linkedin here
Thank you for reading and thank you for your help.