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Community clash in Edinburgh’s Southside

ByCassandra Lord

Oct 7, 2014
courtesy of anthony o'neil

There has been growing concern amongst local Southside residents that the ever-increasing number of student flats could threaten the community atmosphere. Residents worry that a dense population of students in any one area would create a ‘student ghetto’ in which student residents would not contribute to the local community.

The Southside area involves everything from the Royal Mile down to Causewayside, including the central university buildings and Pollock Halls.

There are several plans to create further student accommodation in the area, including on Meadow Lane, Buccleuch Place, and a Causewayside printing office. Along with these there are plans to demolish the Homebase store on St Leonard’s Street and replace it with a UNITE Group 579-bed complex.

In addition, applications have been made to build a student housing complex at the site of the Lutton Court Business Centre. Having been previously refused by the Edinburgh Planning Committee earlier in the year – largely due to concerns over the concentration of ‘transient students’ in the area – the decision was overturned after an appeal by the applicant. One local resident has now lodged papers for a judicial review of this decision, showing how strongly some residents feel about the issue. Marco Biagi, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central, hopes to gain cross-party support for a debate on the concentration of university accommodation in Southside.

Government guidelines state that student populations in any area should not rise above 30 per cent. Although this rule is to be reviewed by the Planning Committee, in the Southside area that number has already been surpassed. This threatens the ‘town-gown’ balance in the area.

Lisa Sibbald, Chairwoman of the Southside Association, said: “I feel the community is in danger of being destroyed by the rapid growth of student housing in the area […] Many Southsiders feel that they are living on a student campus.”

Sibbald added: “Only a limited number of students settle in the Southside after graduating, so they often don’t have a long-term commitment to the community.”

Although students are likely to live in the area for a short period of time, their respect for the community and the part they play in it is often underestimated. Many students volunteer and actively take part in their local community; 4,500 students have volunteered with EUSA in the last four years alone.

According to Mariah Harrington, a first-year student living in the Newington area: “When you hear of this bureaucracy in regards to setting up student housing, you really can’t help but feel like the community just resents you – resents the physical space you’re taking up, the lifestyle they presume you have. It’s just so disheartening. I know it’s a relatively temporary set up but this still feels very much like a home for me”.

A prominent opinion and concern is that students run on a different time schedule, in that they often stay up late into the night during the week, and even when students are respectful in other ways, this can be very disruptive to a family lifestyle. Another factor contributing to the discontentment is that residents feel the surrounding businesses are being affected by the high student population, overrunning shops, pubs and cafés.

Some concerns have been raised regarding the need for social or affordable housing for non-students. However, the fact that students face the same affordability issues seems to have been overlooked. By creating these student buildings, other flats are left available for non-student residents.

Speaking to The Student, EUSA President Briana Pegado, said: “We have recognised the increase in demand for student housing and the rise of student numbers at the University. This is an issue we are concerned with and we are taking our concerns to the university executive. As a member of University Court, I have brought up my concerns during court meetings.”

It is clear that the increasing student population in Southside is becoming a problem, but it is simple to put the blame with the students and their stereotyped reputation, when their positive contribution to the community is often overlooked. An effort needs to be made on both parts in order to fuel a thriving society.

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