The increase in student halls construction is damaging our city

Another cough and splutter was heard last week as the slow death of Edinburgh’s nightlife continues. The latest victim is Silk – previously known as Jaffacake, Gaia and Stereo – which will close its doors on January 27.

Why? An extensive redevelopment of King’s Stables Road that includes, among other things, a new student accommodation with over 160 rooms. This adds to the two brand new Unite accommodations, the Old Printworks and Salisbury Court, which opened for the start of the academic year and are mere metres apart from each other.

The King’s Stables development would see the 27th privately owned student accommodation in Edinburgh open its doors. Edinburgh, according to one view espoused in The Scotsman, “won’t be known as a city, but instead just as a campus”. Exaggeration or otherwise, Edinburgh is of course a very student-orientated place: a natural consequence of having four universities and a college in what is a relatively small city. In 2016, approximately 7.8 per cent of Edinburgh’s student population lived in halls of residence – the equivalent of 3, 784 beds being filled.

Of course we all need somewhere to sleep and halls are a very obvious solution to that, particularly for first year students. Too much of a good thing, however, can become a very serious problem. That problem is now staring us all in the face. The increase in the number of halls adds to two growing issues in the city as a whole: soaring rent prices, and the demise of the pub and club scene.

Private flat rents in Edinburgh have skyrocketed, increasing by just under five per cent on average annually for the last seven years. The data site Numbeo shows that average rent for a one-bedroomed flat in central Edinburgh is almost £110 a month higher than central Glasgow, and a three-bedroomed flat is over £180 per month more. This is despite average monthly salaries being £125 per month less in the capital after tax. Edinburgh residents are being priced out of the city centre – and new student accommodation occupying space that could be taken up by new flats to ease demand is not helping. It is far from the only reason of course, as cost of living is determined by many factors, but the seemingly carefree construction of more halls is adding fuel to the fire.

Rising rent is not the only consequence of more student accommodation. Edinburgh’s nightlife and creativity is drying up as the pressure on housing increases at an alarming rate. Silk is just one venue that has shut down as the housing demand chokes the character out of the Old Town. Studio 24 was another high profile example, closing following tough new noise restrictions brought in by the City of Edinburgh Council. Noise complaints aimed towards the beloved venue soared in number after 2006, following the construction of more student halls right next door, a decision openly criticised by Studio 24’s bosses.

What is the incredible city of Edinburgh turning into? An overpriced student roost with a dwindling night scene that largely depends on students to stay in business? That is not the future Edinburgh nor its residents deserve, but it is a future with which the ever rising number of purpose-built student halls is compliant.

Student halls are a useful way to become acclimatised to Edinburgh and start university off in the right way, but we are on the cusp of exceeding the reasonable limit. Restrictions on new accommodation are needed so that students are not seen as a blight on this excellent city that we can proudly call our home.

 

Image: Chemical Engineer via Wikimedia Commons

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