Edinburgh’s longest-running heritage watchdog wants a blanket ban on new hotels opening up in the heart of the capital to help tackle concerns it is being over-run by tourists.
The Cockburn Association claims the historic character and vitality of the Old Town is being put “seriously at risk” by the number of schemes being approved by the city council.
The independent body, which dates back to 1875, has urged the local authority to impose an “immediate moratorium” on all further developments in the Old Town.
The move would be similar to one introduced in Barcelona in response to concerns about “over-tourism,” which heritage bodies have warned has become a growing problem in Edinburgh in recent years.
Edinburgh World Heritage has drawn comparisons between the city and Venice, claiming “commercial over-exploitation was posing a serious threat to its “authenticity”.
The Cockburn has called for a halt on new hotel schemes being approved until a full assessment of the impact of the tourism industry on the city centre has been carried out amid concerns about the number of budget hotels, the impact of Airbnb and the domination of “tartan tat” shops.
New hotels have opened on Cockburn Street, the Cowgate, South Bridge and the Royal Mile in recent years, while new developments have recently secured planning permission for sites on Victoria Street and Market Street.
The ban has been demanded in response to plans emerging for the conversion of an A-listed former courthouse on Parliament Square into new “capsule” hotel accommodation.
In a statement, the Cockburn Association said: “We believe that both the historic character and the vitality of the local community and businesses in the Old Town are seriously at risk. In our view, the development of a hotel in Parliament Square can only exacerbate this ongoing issue and it is therefore unwelcome.
“We call on the city council to impose an immediate moratorium on all further hotel development in the Old Town until it has determined, through active engagement with residents and businesses, the impacts of recent hotel development on the livability of the area and on the sustainability of local businesses.”
Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association, added: “There has been a real lack of critical analysis of the impact that hotels are having.
“We think it’s time to step back and say: ‘hang on, this has all got slightly out of hand.’ Edinburgh should be sending out a message that it is attract for people to come to because it is a living city. There’s a real feeling that tourism has been under-managed in recent years. It’s been open season.”
Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson said: “The new management plan for the World Heritage Site recognises that market forces dictate to a large extent the quality and nature of new development being proposed, but also calls for the council to preserve the quality of life for residents and ensure economic growth is sustainable and benefits everyone.
“While each new proposal needs to be considered on its merits, there needs to be a clear framework for the development of hotels which understands and is informed by the positive and negative impacts on communities, and has the support of the people of Edinburgh.”