Student planning heightens community concerns

SouthsideAt the end of last month I attended a community meeting to discuss the high number of planning applications for student accommodation in Edinburgh’s Southside.

The area’s links to Edinburgh University make it a popular site for developers but many residents have approached me to raise concerns that the situation is now at breaking point with hundreds of student flats in the planning pipeline.

In an echo of previous community campaigns in the area, there was a high turnout from local residents keen to demonstrate the community’s desire to work together to make its concerns known.

Edinburgh University is an internationally respected institution and a source of pride for the city.  Its continuing success and expansion is welcome and nobody is trying to say that we don’t need new accommodation.   However, it is vital that the right balance is struck for the benefit of the community.

This issue goes to the heart of the planning process which should work to deliver strong communities.   An important part of that process is to ensure a mix of residents whether they are students, young families, single households or elderly people.   I don’t believe it is in the best interest of communities if we box these groups off from one another in distinct districts.  However, across a number of areas of the city, students account for more than half of the resident population.

One issue that I am keen to see addressed is the availability of affordable housing in the Southside and elsewhere across the city.  Without affordable housing of a suitable standard it is difficult to deliver the mix of residents that will help the area continue to thrive.  It is important that this housing need is given adequate weight in the planning process so that developers are encouraged to build a mix of housing.

The Southside is and always has been a vibrant and diverse community and it is important that this is not placed at risk by an imbalance of new development.  Following the meeting I will continue to make representations on behalf of constituents to raise their concerns about specific proposals and about the issue of student accommodation more generally.   In my closing remarks to the meeting I emphasised the importance of people submitting their views on planning applications so that local knowledge, experience and views could be taken into account.

Our meeting committed to the establishment of a working group aimed at bringing together local people to ensure that local views are heard.   We need a vision for the Southside and new affordable and well designed housing.   Hopefully with the strong level of interest demonstrated at the meeting we will also see the establishment of a new Community Council for the Southside able to make sure that local political representatives are able to work in partnership with the local community.