Citizen group launches ‘Easter Rising’ to defend Edinburgh from over-tourism and developers

A new campaign is to be launched to “defend” Edinburgh against over-tourism, gentrification, property developers, privatisation of public space and the impact of its ­festivals.

Activists are to join forces under the banner of Citizen to mount a year-long fight back against what they say is now “a city of capital disfigured by exploitation” rather than a capital city.

A series of public events, protests and “non-violent direct actions,” are expected to be staged over the next year by the campaign.

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

Sign up to our History and Heritage newsletter

An official announcement about the ‘Easter Rising’ in the city, which will see Citizen stage an official launch on Wednesday, reveals that it will draw up its own manifesto for change and is already considering putting up candidates to fight future elections.

Activists are to join forces under the banner of Citizen to mount a year-long fight back against over-tourism. Pic: Neil Hanna

The campaign, which has been in development for several months, is aimed at persuading the council to redraw existing economic development strategies and “re-imagine the city as a sustainable place for people to live in, one of social justice and equality, not just a space for consumption and profit”. Work recently got underway on a new long-term tourism strategy for the city.

Citizen, which describes itself as a “non-party grassroots network, will also encourage community groups across the city to “act against exploitation”, fight for housing rights and protect publicly-owned assets.

Activists involved in Citizen include representatives of the campaigns against new developments on Leith Walk, the Meadowbank area and the Old Town, as well as the Living Rent Edinburgh campaign, which was set up to tackle “rip off-rents and unjust evictions” in the city, and the Bella Caledonia online magazine.

The campaign is being launched in the wake of debates and controversy over the impact of over-tourism, the number of city centre properties being let out via Airbnb, disruption and inconvenience caused to residents by the city’s festivals.

Ahead of the launch at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, in the Old Town, Citizen has vowed to “defend the city against speculators and developers, the rampant growth model that guides every single decision; the hollowing-out of the city centre and the endless prioritisation of the rich against the poor, the transient against the permanent and the ‘selling’ and ‘marketing’ that seems to have become the essential element of civic governance”.

Megan Bishop, spokeswoman for Living Rent Edinburgh, said: “Citizen is a great initiative for us to unite around one another, not just as campaign groups, but as individuals who live and work in the city.”

Old Town activist Sean Bradley said: “The negative social and environmental impacts of tourism, festivals and the expansion of the university are the major worries of Old Town residents.

“A dramatic fall in available housing is the most serious effect which has already begun to decimate the number of permanent residents.

“Community life is just not possible with the level of overcrowding on out streets and public spaces. The air and noise pollution is extremely damaging to the health and wellbeing of residents. Those who live in the city need to wake up to what’s happening.”

Bella Caledonia editor Mike Small said: “We’re against the grinding force of gentrification and social cleansing; the seizure and privatisation of public space; and the lack of public housing and the funnelling of vast sums of private rent into the hands of a rentier class whose coffers are swollen on the misery of others.”

Cammy Day, depute council leader, said “Edinburgh is a city rich with community organisations so we welcome the establishment of this network, and look forward to understanding more about the groups it is seeking to represent.

“Our economy strategy makes clear that ‘inclusive growth’ is what we are trying to deliver for the city.

“Alongside this we’re delivering the most ambitious affordable housing programme in the UK, have set up an independent Edinburgh Poverty Commission, are seeking to controls short term lets, and successfully led the campaign for a tax on transient visitors to ensure everyone shares in the city’s successes.

“We will soon be unveiling our approach to access and improvement in the city centre. But there is much more to do.”