Developers must build more housing for the local community

The local Edinburgh children’s hospital is going to be turned into student housing. A fantastic controversial headline, but not really the whole truth. The Royal Hospital for Sick Children, affectionately referred to as ‘Sick Kids,’ was actually sold by NHS Lothian in 2017, pre-empting the hospital’s move to a new site in Little France last year. Their new site is bigger and better than ever, with more beds and a multitude of new resources for young people, including a new mental health services unit and a department of clinical neurosciences. So no, evil money-hungry developers are not tipping ill children out of hospital beds in favour of churning out yet more student apartments. But does that mean we should turn a blind eye?

It’s no secret that Edinburgh is overrun. Anyone who’s had to find a flat in the city centre will be well aware of the ever-rising rent prices and the overwhelmingly unbalanced ratio of flats to flat-hunters. Landlords and letting agents know they can increase their prices exponentially, because some poor students, left with no choice, will eventually give in and pay £600 a month each to live in a dingy ground floor flat in Newington. As a result, students are pricing locals and young professionals out of the city. And now, Edinburgh council want to dedicate space to another 323 flats’ worth of freshers, who within a year will be contributing even further to the maelstrom that is the Edinburgh flat hunt. That’s a pretty unappealing prospect for students and locals alike.

It isn’t hard to see why locals might be disillusioned with the student population, especially when you consider that Downing, the developers who bought the Sick Kids site, outpriced a community buyout bid whose intention was to turn the site into an affordable housing estate.
The Marchmont and Sciennes area is already packed with students, with the Sciennes House first-year accommodation only minutes down the road from the old hospital site. In an area already dominated by students, with rents rising yearly to keep up with demand, building non-student housing would have been a real win for local families – especially given the site is right next to a primary school.

It’s not that students don’t have a right to live in the city – most of us absolutely adore Edinburgh, but should that really come at the cost non-students and their families, who are much more likely to contribute to local amenities?

Downing may not be turning sick children out onto the streets, but their plans to build student accommodation in an already over-saturated area will not be met with good grace. They may be keeping the original facade in an effort to maintain a piece of Edinburgh’s history, but that same Edinburgh is slowly slipping through the fingers of its locals, as tensions with the student population rise further in light of the upcoming 323 new student-only flats. The defeat of the community bid may well be forgiven, but it will be a long time before it’s forgotten.



Image: dImItrIsvetsIkas via pixabay 

By Maisy Hallam

By day, Maisy is Literature Editor for The Student and a fourth-year student of Linguistics and English Language at The University of Edinburgh. By night, she is an environmental activist and avid crime fiction reader. Follow her on her slowly developing Twitter, @lostinamaiz.

One reply on “Developers must build more housing for the local community”

This is a terrible move, the current location provides the most peaceful respite for the most unfortunate children, of course the health board may argue more modern facilities can be developed out of town, but the transport there is a nightmare. However there is a bigger problem here to consider in the area of building of Student accommodation in general. It does seem that residents born in the city are continually driven out of their own city centre by these continual student developments, which appear to be almost the only housing ever built in part of the city where the University already owns a staggering amount of the local buildings.

And there is a reason for this. There are massive tax breaks given to building companies to build these tiny submarine cabin flats, which can also generate much more profit than normal housing. Many students may be happy in these small communal dwellings throughout their studies, however many more will move into a nice nearby old victorian flat when they realise it is cheaper to live in a much nicer larger space. The builders and University may also benefit by the buildings being constructed in ‘partnership’ with the university, which is of course a registered ‘Charity’, which is frankly farcical, and so there is a strong likelihood that the building of these flats receive generous tax and ‘charity’ breaks. There is also the question of what happens to these properties during summer breaks, my understanding is they are let out to visiting festival tourists creating another huge untaxed revenue stream for the university. They are basically building massively profitable holiday bedsits. I think it is essential that the Scottish government examines revoking the ‘charity’ status of one of the largest self serving businesses in the city, and also introduces a tourist tax to stop them doubly benefiting in the summer to the harm of locals and local businesses.

Frankly it all appears as more than a little of a scam, corruption and illegality in the construction industry are unfortunately perfectly normal. and the University is of course a behemoth which like any other seeks first and foremost it’s own profit and expansion. Applications to build student accomodation are routinely made to the planning authorities for bizzare locations throughout Edinburgh, including a recent application for my local car showroom to be converted near Portobello, which was thankfully refused. Of course Edinburgh welcomes all students, they add a wonderful vibrancy to the city and we love to be a hub of learning and development, but the balance of housing is way off and very much to the detriment of the living standard of locals. The University of Edinburgh has to face the fact that there is no other body in Edinburgh which is more fundamentally existentially committed to driving the residents of Edinburgh out of their own city.

Has anyone ever heard of the University assisting with development of plans, input, or even the contribution of some of their many sites of unused redundant city centre land (which is in itself a disgrace) for affordable housing projects for local workers, residents or even their own staff? ever? I don’t think so!. How hard would it be for the Uni to formulate some kind of partnership initiatives along these lines involving Postgrad architecture departments and the like, which could be wonderful learning and training opportunities? But I know of none which have ever taken place, because the University is only interest in increasing it’s own profits and thereby damaging the residents of the city. Please correct me if I am wrong?

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