Student ghetto fears fail to halt Homebase plan

A CONTROVERSIAL student housing block will be built – despite being knocked back by the city council.

An artist's impression of the St Leonards Street student flats development

The £30 million proposals for the site of the Homebase DIY store in St Leonard’s Street were rejected earlier this year.

Planning bosses said the proposed 579-bed unit would push the Southside’s student population above 61 per cent – twice the level recommended in city guidelines.

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Developers appealed to the Scottish Government and its planning reporter has now ruled in their favour.

However, the reporter, John Martin, did admit to having “some sympathy” for campaigners who have valiantly fought the plans. 
 City guidelines state neighbourhoods should not have more than 30 per cent of properties occupied by students, but that number already stands at 55 per cent.

Mr Martin conceded the recommended ratio had already been well exceeded with “no reasonable expectation of it returning to that level”.

Neighbours fear the Southside will become a “student ghetto”, with other developments at Lutton Court and Deaconess House in the pipeline.

Branding Mr Martin’s decision as “disappointing”, Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said it underlined policy “shortcomings” and called on guidelines to be made “much clearer”. She said: “Unless the council’s approach to assessing these applications is updated, I’m concerned we will see more decisions overturned in future. The council recently consulted on this issue and that process must lead to clearer, more effective guidance.

“There is a clear need for additional student accommodation but we need to strike the right balance between supporting the growth of our universities, the need to preserve stable local communities and the need to provide new and affordable housing opportunities in the city.”

Hilary McDowell, of campaign group Living Southside, said: “There seems to be nothing we can do, so the council needs to change its policy.”

Marco Biagi, MSP for the Edinburgh Central constituency, demanded a more balanced approach to housing.

He said: “I objected to the development of the Homebase site and my constituents will be disappointed that this been granted permission by the independent appeals body.

“People in the Southside have been crying out for a housing mix that is not over-concentrated in one type.

“Ever more expensive commercial purpose-built student accommodation risks pushing up the going rate for rent for students and non-students.”

Jagdeep Boghal, of developer Unite Students, insisted the development would relieve the “burden” students put on the local housing market.

“As a long-term investor in Edinburgh we believe we can be of real benefit to the local community,” he said.