They claim there will be “catastrophic consequences” for the world's biggest arts festival if there is a dramatic drop in the availability of temporary accommodation over the summer.
Eight venues said to be responsible for 75 per cent of Fringe ticket sales say there is a real risk of the 75-year-old cultural celebration being accessible only to the “wealthiest and elitist” artists and audiences in future.
Assembly, Dance Base, Gilded Balloon, Just the Tonic, Pleasance, Summerhall, Underbelly and Zoo, which have cited a 22 per cent rise in average accommodation costs since 2019, have joined forces to try to thwart long-awaited new restrictions backed by the city council and the Scottish Government.
They have claimed around 90 per cent of Edinburgh’s “secondary let” properties, which are being used for short-term lets year round, could vanish from the market if the proposed curbs go ahead.
The venues want to see 24-hour public transport in place for the summer festivals season and are also calling for the creation of an emerging Fringe artists fund by the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to help newcomers appear at smaller venues.
The big venues are opposed to new rules, which will require owners of multiple properties to seek planning permission to operate them as short-term lets if they do not actually live there, with a presumption against using tenement flats in future. They have branded a new scheme intended to offer home-owners exemptions from the need for a licence to let out their existing home or a spare room during peak periods as “unnecessarily bureaucratic and burdensome”.
The venues have taken a much firmer line than a collective of Edinburgh’s festivals, which warned at the weekend that around half of the temporary accommodation capacity in August could be lost due to the amount of red tape and new costs involved.
A report for MSPs from Festivals Edinburgh warns the city was at risk of becoming “increasingly unaffordable and unfeasible for festival participants and visitors”.
However, the venue operators have told MSPs that Festivals Edinburgh has not presented an “accurate picture” of the scale of the current challenges or what is needed to stabilise the future of the Fringe.
The eight venues, which worked together to promote and sell shows last year, sold nearly 1.5 million tickets during the 2022 Fringe – the first full-scale festival since 2019. However, as the festival drew to a close, they warned the cost of accommodation in Edinburgh was the “biggest risk” to the event’s future.
The letter from the venues states: “It was fantastic to welcome audiences back to Edinburgh last summer for the festival season. We’re proud to have been able to play a part in the revival of such an important cultural event for Edinburgh and Scotland. However, we believe there is a clear and present danger to the future success of the festivals around the question of ‘affordability,’ and in particular the cost and availability of accommodation for artists, temporary workers and visitors.
"We’re at a tipping point where unless action is taken, the August festivals face a downward spiral and are in danger of only being accessible to the wealthiest/elitist of audiences and artists.
"Unless affordable accommodation is also available for audiences, then audience levels will not sustain the artists. Audiences outside of the wealthy, and young audiences in particular, will be excluded and the Fringe will wither away.
“Accommodation prices have already increased by 22 per cent between 2019 and 2022. If the supply of accommodation is significantly reduced, then prices will soar with catastrophic consequences.
"Our issue with Festivals Edinburgh’s submission is that protecting home-sharing and home-letting alone will not provide the level of accommodation that the August festivals require.
"Unless secondary letting is also available in all types of property, including tenement stairs, there will simply not be enough accommodation for the August festivals.”
The Fringe Society has estimated a potential of £30 million in economic benefit and more than 700 jobs over plans by the city council to impose strict new rules over the short-term letting of properties, even if it is only for a few weeks. The council is insisting all home-owners must apply for permission to let out spare rooms or their whole home despite previously promising to offer “exemptions” for peak festival periods.
The letter to MSPs from the venues adds: "Costs are increasing in every aspect of life currently and inflation is at its highest level since 1993. This places massive pressures on arts organisations and artists. The cost-of-living crisis also means there is a reduction in the available spend for households in areas like culture.
"This backdrop is a serious and significant pressure on the August festivals. If artists, workers and audiences cannot be accommodated too, then the situation for us could not be more serious.”
Assembly founder Assembly Burdett-Coutts: "When we surveyed people last year, every one of them said the main issue was finance and the cost of getting to Edinburgh. That is a fundamental concern.
“There needs to be a balance struck that doesn’t destroy the tourist economy of the city. Edinburgh is a tourist city which needs all the people that come in. At the same time, the interests of the public in the city have to be served as well.
"There has been a failure to invest in new accommodation over the years. There is not enough low-cost accommodation in the city. Rental prices are going up and up. Rather than solve the problems of the city, what is happening is actually going to make things worse.”