Three times more student rooms built than council homes in Edinburgh since 2010

Student flats at Haymarket.
Student flats at Haymarket.
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For every council house built in Edinburgh there have been three student accommodation units completed since 2010, new figures show.

The revelation puts the housing shortage in the Capital into focus once again with one charity saying the number of council houses is at “crisis levels”.

Student flats in the Old Town.

Student flats in the Old Town.

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Figures show 10,267 student accommodation units have been built since 2010, while only 3,739 social housing units were completed since the start of the decade.

It means the Capital has seen almost three times as many new student accommodation units compared to new social housing.

Without housing association constructed homes, numbers show the council has built even fewer, with only 523 council houses completed since 2010.

City of Edinburgh Council housing convener Kate Campbell said each council housing unit averaged 3.5 beds compared to one bed for student accommodation units.

Councillor Kate Campbell.

Councillor Kate Campbell.

However, FOI officials from the council told the Evening News they were unable to provide data showing the breakdown of the number of beds in each council house.

Housing associations and charities highlighted the price and competition for land in the Capital as one stumbling block with organisations and local authorities struggling to afford to purchase land for development.

By comparison, many of the new student accommodation blocks are built and owned either by private providers such as Unite, or are owned by pension funds run by large pension companies such as Aviva and Standard Life, but are run day-to-day by the universities.

Pauline Nicol-Bowie, project director at the charity Low Income Families Together in Muirhouse, said the council needs to do more the provide adequate housing provision.

She said: “People go through the homeless process and then there are no council houses at the end of it. The council should work more with on-the-ground groups and it would be a reality check as they would see what is really going on down here.

“I am sure the students are great and it is fantastic to have them in the city but we really need more council houses and do not need any more student housing. There is a severe lack and it is at crisis levels in regards to council housing in Edinburgh.”

The director of the Cockburn Association, Terry Levinthal, said it cannot be forgotten that Edinburgh is a university city and student accommodation can bring benefits to residents through businesses.

He added: “The numbers underline the general feeling that we have that whilst student accommodation has been benefiting from growth plans, it is affecting the ability of other housing to be implemented across the city, which is having a detrimental effect on housing provision.

“There has been an investment skew towards student accommodation, however I understand that the investment sector is starting to retreat from student accommodation as a primary investment product.

“Some of the benefits that come from student accommodation such as not giving up huge parts of the site to car parking and bringing in this particular type of lifestyle mix that students can bring can actually help local businesses such as cafes.”

Mr Liventhal also highlighted the ease of funding for student and hotel accommodation when compared to social housing.

He added: “The simple fact is that housing associations and councils are unable to compete in the land market to secure land for social housing.

“The funding mechanisms behind student accommodation and hotel developments, that finance is a lot easier to secure than other forms of development.

“It certainly changes communities. We need to remember that this is a university city and students do need places to live.

“We can’t take a holier than thou perspective because we have all been there and the students do hopefully contribute to the communality of communities.”

Ms Campbell, convener of the housing, homeless and fair work committee, said: “The council doesn’t build student housing. But we do build social homes and have one of the most ambitious council-led house building programmes in the UK, building 20,000 homes over the next ten years.

“The average number of bed spaces for a social home is 3.5 per unit – whereas student accommodation is, by it’s very nature, just for one person.

“Obviously, there will be a lot more people who have been accommodated in social housing over the last nine years than in student housing.

“It’s worth noting too that in this time there have been over 8,000 affordable homes completed.”

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David Zwirlein, the director of development at the housing association Hillcrest Homes, said the council’s housing policy is helping to deliver council houses, despite the cost of land.

He said: “The cost of land is expensive in Edinburgh and relies on companies within the private sector committing to new developments. We, along with our partners, are committed to addressing the shortage of affordable housing in Edinburgh.”

Polly Jones, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations’ head of membership and policy said: “The cost of land is an issue for housing associations across Scotland. The funding situation for the sector is positive thanks to £3bn from the Scottish Government and huge investor appetite.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesman said: “Our students contribute to the cultural energy of the city and are active as local volunteers. As Edinburgh grows there is significant pressure on residential housing supply. Well-managed and purpose-built student accommodation is one way to ease some of that strain.”