Student Housing in Edinburgh

Southside

At the end of last month, I submitted my comments to a City of Edinburgh Council consultation on student housing.

My comments, which can be read in full here, were informed by the work I’ve been doing with residents in the Southside to highlight concerns about the high number of proposed developments seeking planning permission.

The residents I have met and spoken with at public meetings and at surgeries recognise the contribution of the city’s universities to our economy and equally welcome the contribution made by students to our communities.

However there is concern that in some areas the high proportion of additional students is contributing to less stable communities and that new developments are crowding out sites that could have been considered for a mix of new affordable housing for rent and general housing.

The Council’s existing planning guidance has attempted to address these concerns with support for student development only where the location is appropriate and proposals will not lead to excessive concentrations of students.  However, the recent Scottish Government decision to uphold an appeal from a developer against a planning application rejection has demonstrated the shortcomings of the approach.   Planning guidance needs to be revised to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

In my response, I noted the need to ensure that purpose-built accommodation is designed with the need to support balanced communities in mind. I argued for the enforcement of the preferred 30% threshold on student populations, particularly where, as is the case at Edinburgh University, the campus is interspersed with other city centre uses.  There is clearly a need for more detailed joint work between the Council, the universities and developers to identify demand and appropriate sites.

The type of accommodation being built is also crucial.  So much of the newly proposed accommodation is single room apartments costing upwards of £250 per week.  That is part of the reason so many students turn to relatively cheaper HMO flats.  I’d like to see more cooperative developments so that students get to influence the shape and affordability of accommodation.   More accommodation designed along the lines of shared flats might help address affordability. 

I was clear in my response that the issue of student accommodation cannot be considered in isolation and must be considered alongside the other pressures on housing in the city.  Edinburgh has the highest house prices in the Scotland and huge waiting lists for social housing.  These two factors combined have created upward pressure on private rents with the average two-bed flat going for £850 per month.  That is beyond the reach of many households who end up leaving the city to travel in to work.   Availability and affordability are therefore key issues which have to be addressed as our population soars in the coming decades.

That is why it is so important to ensure an overarching strategy to address housing need, not just for students, but for all sectors of society including families, older people and single occupants.