City of Edinburgh Council challenged to tackle growing overtourism

Edinburgh has been named by a CNN Travel report as one of the world’s ‘overtourism hotspots’ alongside Rome, Venice, Amsterdam and Barcelona.

The effects of overtourism in the city, such as gentrification, disruption of public spaces and reduced availability of housing, is a topical issue for Edinburgh residents.

Overtourism means that Edinburgh is a hotspot for short-term lets, with an increase of 2000 in Airbnb-style holiday lets within a year.

This is aided by Edinburgh’s lack of restrictions in Airbnb, unlike other tourist destinations such as London.

On 8 January, the Scottish Government announced that they are introducing a licensing scheme for short-term lets in 2021.

Lothian MSP Andy Wightman, housing spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, had previously claimed that short-term lets are “hollowing out” the city.

He welcomed the new scheme, saying: “Those communities who have been adversely impacted by short-term lets will be pleased that the Government has now committed to introducing a much-needed, long overdue licensing scheme.”

Tenants’ union Living Rent described this a “huge step forward” because “for far too long, these types of short-term lets have been allowed to wreak havoc in our communities, displacing families and driving up rents.”

Council data supports these claims, showing that lack of social housing and increased house prices mean that displaced people in Edinburgh stay homeless and in temporary accommodation for up to 18 months before being placed in a permanent home.

Kate Campbell, housing and economy convener of the Council, said “we are determined to […] improve support to people who are homeless and increase the long term supply of affordable homes.”

Community led businesses are under threat of being ‘priced out’ due to increasing gentrification in Edinburgh. This had led to formation of community-led groups like Save Leith Walk, that campaign against local business and residents being displaced by gentrification.

They have gathered more than 12,000 petition signatures against proposals to replace Stead’s Place buildings in Leith with student flats and a hotel, leading to the Scottish Government to reject the proposal on December 2019.

This is, however, one victory, and community-led groups are continuing campaigns to protect local business and residents.

One example is the newly formed Citizens Group, a ‘community-led development to defend the city against unwelcome development, privatisation and over-tourism.’

They have been challenging Underbelly, an external company that uses the city to hold events during the Fringe, Christmas and Hogmanay.

Underbelly has come under fire for failing to apply for planning permission from the Edinburgh Council for their Christmas Markets in both 2018 and 2019.

In the process of clearing space for the markets, Underbelly displaced memorial benches from Princes Street gardens, which caused significant backlash.

In response to this, Edinburgh World Heritage requested the markets to be reduced next year, saying it: “clearly disrupts this magnificent environment to a very great extent.”

Underbelly was criticised in December for issuing resident passes which conditionally allowed locals access to their own homes during their Hogmanay event, seemingly without consultation with the council, police, or residents.

A spokesperson for Underbelly stated: “As a major city centre event [access arrangements for businesses and residential properties] is necessary for additional security measures to be in place.

“The measures are set and agreed as appropriate by the multi-agency group, which includes The City of Edinburgh Council and Police Scotland.”

Community-led groups have formed in order to pressure the Government and Council to do more to combat gentrification.

Image: Usman Khan via Flickr

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