Tourism ‘tearing up fabric’ of Edinburgh, warns Val McDermid

McDermid says the scale of 'tourism on a shoestring' is destroying the very thing people craved when they travelled to a city. Picture: TSPL
McDermid says the scale of 'tourism on a shoestring' is destroying the very thing people craved when they travelled to a city. Picture: TSPL
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One of Scotland’s most successful authors has warned the mass influx of tourists to Edinburgh is at risk of “tearing up the fabric of the city”.

Best-selling crime novelist writer Val McDermid said the Scottish capital had become over-run due to the number of properties being used for short-term holiday lets.

McDermid said she believed a lack of regulation was running the risk of an entire tenement block burning down.

The author, who lives in the capital’s New Town, said the city was struggling to cope with the numbers of tourists at peak periods, saying she had witnessed local residents being turned away from their normal bus services because they were so busy.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View programme, McDermid said the “sheer scale of tourism on a shoestring” was destroying the very thing people craved when they travelled to a city.

McDermid, who said she was in favour of a tourist tax being introduced in Edinburgh, insisted she did not want to come across as “a nimby whinge”, but had seen an unwelcome transformation of her neighbourhood.

She said: “Walking through the New Town, I’ve noticed a new phenomenon – serried ranks of security key boxes fixed to the door jams like giant digital Mezuzahs. We often wake to the sound of wheelie cases trundling down our normally quiet street. Knots of people huddled around their bags staring at their phones have become a regular feature. I’m not being a dog in the manger. I don’t hate tourists – quite the opposite. I relish the vibrant energy that engulfs Edinburgh every August, the month when every day is a festival. I enjoy the babble of languages in the streets. I appreciate the over-stuffed restaurants. Bars make enough money in those four weeks to ensure they’re open all year round for my pleasure.

“But I also want to live in a community where neighbours nod a greeting as they pass, where local schools survive because there are enough local children, where people spend their money in shops where the staff recognise their customers and enjoy a chat over the till. I’m happy to see visitors to my streets as long as their presence doesn’t tear up the fabric of the city.”

McDermid compared Edinburgh to several other cities, including Barcelona, Venice and Reykjavik, which she said had become “intolerable” for locals.

She added: “It seems to me that the sheer scale of tourism on a shoestring is destroying the very thing we crave when we travel – an immersion in another culture and an experience that is different from anything you will find at home.

“These days our great cities are year-round destinations and there is no let-up. Local protest movements are springing up all over Europe and beyond. People are angry at the impact on their lives, but also their wider culture.

“When the hordes arrive, cultural simplification is seldom far behind. Authenticity is always trumped by accessibility.”

City council leader Adam McVey said: “Every summer we welcome the world to share in our festival spirit and sample some of the thousands of performances taking place in this unique and beautiful city.

“But with that popularity, success and acclaim comes pressure on our core services and on the people who live and work here – and we’re clear on our responsibility to manage that impact.

“Val McDermid’s contribution to the debate and her support for a tourist levy is very welcome. The national conversation announced last week by the First Minister will provide broader context for our proposals and add to detailed engagement we’ve already carried out with industry, stakeholders, residents and tourists themselves.

“Many residents have expressed similar concerns around the impacts of short term lets. We have set up a working group to look into issues such as antisocial behaviour and the effect on residential housing supply. We’re working closely with the Scottish Government, other local authorities and the industry to consider piloting regulatory solutions.”

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “Val McDermid raises a range of important issues, especially concerning the risk of ‘cultural simplification’ and the loss of authenticity in historic cities due to over-tourism.

“Loss of authenticity can range from the disappearance of traditional communities to the rise of tourist souvenir shops and the impact of some new developments on the architectural landscape.”