Tourist tax ‘to fund green plans’; Airbnb licensing heading back to court; science research funding plea
Plus fears the city will miss out in the supercomputer age; and the UK’s best Independent bookshop
Edinburgh’s plans to impose the UK’s first tourist tax on visitors to the Capital could be used to fund a Green transport revolution.
City council leader Cammy Day suggests that the millions of pounds a year it raises could fund a new bike hire scheme - similar to the Just East-sponsored one which folded two years ago after failing to pay its way - and extensions to the tram line. Improvements to city parks and helping cover the £1 million a year cost of cleaning the city centre streets at the height of the tourist season are among other ideas the council is keen to explore.
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QUICKER AND WIDER: The council leader believes the scheme can start within six months - a year sooner than currently proposed. He has also indicated his desire to loosen the restrictions placed on the spending of revenues raised. The Bill before Parliament, paving the way for the levy, states spending “must relate to developing, supporting or sustaining facilities or services, which are substantially for or used by persons visiting the scheme area for leisure purposes”.
INDUSTRY TENSIONS: Day’s ambitions put him at potential loggerheads with the tourism industry which wants to see the funds devoted to delivering the Edinburgh Tourism 2030 strategy, in order to support the 30,000 sector jobs and its transition to a more sustainable future. The levy is expected to raise between £20-30m a year, although rising hotel prices could see that figure grow.
The city’s looming court showdown over the regulation of Airbnb and other short term lets is covered below.
YOUR EDINBURGH BRIEFING
SCIENCE FUNDING: The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him to secure funding for UK-European scientific collaboration. They want to see the UK Government secure Britain’s place in the Horizon Europe project as quickly as possible. In an open letter to the Prime Minister RSE President Sir John Ball wrote: "If the UK is serious about tackling, and indeed leading on, global challenges such as climate change, we need programmes like Horizon." Scottish organisations benefited from a total of €852.6m of the most recent Horizon 2020 budget with a significant proportion going to small to medium sized enterprises. The UK Government guarantee to cover all Horizon Europe funding runs out on 30 September.
BEST FOR BOOKS: Portobello Bookshop has been voted the UK and Ireland’s Indie Bookshop of the Year in the first TikTok Book Awards. TikTok has been a disruptor in the publishing world with its BookTok hashtag attracting more than 167 billion views and attracting a devoted fandom whose support has launched the careers of new writers. Women writers were the big winners at the inaugural awards, including Bolu Babalola, Holly Jackson, Dolly Alderton and Alice Oseman. TikTok has partnered with bookshop.org, an online platform which supports local and independent shops.
BAD PARKING: Motorists are being warned about parking along the city’s newly extended tram route after inconsiderate parking caused disruption to services. A total of 22 tram journeys were delayed over the course of 9 weeks in June and July, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act and reported by STV, with most incidents taking place in and around Leith.
THE RIGHT WING: The sign from Hibs legend Gordon Smith’s pub the Right Wing has been won at auction by the Hibernian Historical Trust. After restoration work it will go on display at Easter Road stadium. The pub stood for many years on the corner of Willowbrae Road and Northfield Drive until it was demolished in 2018 to make way for flats. A bust of the winger is also being created as part of a memorial to Hibs’ iconic Famous Five forward line.
HIDDEN DOORS: The organisers of the highly acclaimed Hidden Door Festival have launched a public appeal to raise £20,000 to support its return in 2024. The volunteer-run charity has opened up a series of empty buildings to the public over the last decade, including Leith Theatre, Granton Gasworks and the old Royal High School, to stage days and nights of theatre, music, film, dance, late night DJs and other special events. Last summer’s festival attracted 10,000 visitors to events at the former Scottish Widows headquarters on Dalkeith Road. Festival Director Hazel Johnson said: “Investing in the arts is more important than ever, and with cultural organisations across the sector having difficult conversations about funding and the spiralling cost of putting on live events, this needs more than words.”
Self Caterers heading for second court battle
City tells petitioners that it will contest their action against controversial planning policy
A second Judicial Review into City of Edinburgh Council’s actions to control the short-term let sector in the Capital is going ahead – and another adverse finding could threaten to derail their plans.
The Edinburgh Inquirer understands that the council has notified lawyers acting for the two petitioners that it will contest a Judicial Review at the Court of Session into its planning policy. A date for the hearing is still to be confirmed.
An earlier Judicial Review of the council’s licensing policy found significant parts to be “unlawful,” forcing the council to remove sections including the policy presumption against granting licences for short-term lets in tenement properties, as well as a rule requiring some STLs to have "a suitable floor covering such as a carpet" in bedrooms, living rooms and hallways. A presumption against granting temporary licences for secondary lets - any entire property used for holiday letting - was also deemed unlawful and removed.
Following the findings, the sector had hoped the council would conduct its conversations in a more collegiate way. After all, they point out, the sector is generally supportive of licensing, but they say it needs to be a fair, proportionate and transparent system designed to support good operators and weed-out the bad operators of so-called “Airbnb-style party flats.”
No resolution by deadline
However, the council is pressing ahead with its plans and still requires those seeking to operate properties as short-term lets to have planning permission, and to have applied for a licence, by 1 October. There appears little prospect of the outstanding legal argument being resolved ahead of that deadline, sowing further uncertainty and confusion.
Under the Scottish Government legislation enabling councils to operate the licensing system for short-term lets, planning control zones can be introduced. Edinburgh opted to make the entire city a control zone. From the start, Scottish Government guidance has indicated that changes to planning rules, for example through the creation of planning control zones, should not be retrospective in its application.
Operators able to show properties have operated wholly as short-term lets for the past ten years without any breaks enjoy automatic “grandfathering” rights to planning permission. Those with fewer years – operating for up to nine years – must apply for planning permission for any “meaningful change of use” of a property.
The new Judicial Review will focus on the retrospective aspects of the proposed policy. The petitioners will argue that this operates against all previous understanding of planning law. Much will focus on the interpretation of the words “meaningful change of use” as they relate to properties which have a history of operating as short-term lets, but do not yet possess planning permission.
Driving out the good
Iain Muirhead, an operator with no complaints made against the properties he manages, is one of the petitioners, and firmly believes that the retrospective nature of what is being proposed flies in the face of planning law’s normal practice “and the legal advice we have taken supports that view.” He added: “We had expected a conversation with the council following the finding of the previous Judicial Review, but they just appear determined on trying to shut down our sector.”
The Council’s policy on short-term lets is so draconian, the sector says, that they are in danger of driving out the better operators. A list of short-term let operators who pay business rates in the city has dropped from around 1,500 to around 1,250 in recent weeks.
The council maintains there are serious social problems which are exacerbated by the exponential increase in short-term lets and that these will be reduced by their plans – namely anti-social behaviour in residential areas and a shortage of affordable houses which drives higher long-term rents for ordinary citizens. The Inquirer will continue to follow this issue closely.
SUPERCOMPUTER FEARS IN EDINBURGH: The £31,500 computer processor, the H100 is driving the global arms race towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the ChatGPT phenomenon. The world’s first ‘generative AI’ processor is made by Silicon Valley giant Nvidia and exports to China has been banned by President Joe Biden. Saudi Arabia has ordered some 3,000 H100s. Scotland – and Edinburgh – is being left behind in the race for this new generation of GPUs (the 3-D graphic processors can perform hundreds of complicated calculations at once).
The UK’s most powerful computer Archer2, based in Edinburgh, was designed four years ago and did not anticipate the AI boom. Mark Parsons, the executive director at EPCC (formerly the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre), the leading supercomputer hub, told The Telegraph. “The UK is not well set up at the moment for large scale GPU-focused computing. We just don’t have that capability anywhere.” With the GH200 due to be unveiled next month, the world is scrambling for the superchips at the heart of the AI explosion.
SHOP THEFT IS EPIDEMIC: Stealing from shops and violence and abuse against shop workers is on an alarming rise. Waitrose, which has two stores in Edinburgh, and a local convenience store deal with Margiotta, is offering free coffee and hot drinks to police community support officers. Dame Sharon White, the chair of the John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose, said shop thefts have become “an epidemic”. The number of shoplifting incidents has risen from 1.6 million in 2013 to 7.9 million last year, while the value of this has risen from £265m to £953m in a decade, according to the British Retail Consortium.
EMPTY NESTERS in Edinburgh? Family all grown up? An increasing trend for well-heeled folks is to sell off the family home and move to something more bijou. The trend is captured in an age-exclusive development in West Edinburgh. The Avenue, in leafy Barnton, by Cruden Homes, is bringing 48 luxury properties to market. Overlooking the Royal Burgess Golfing Society, the Avenue offers contemporary one, two and three-bedroom apartments and penthouses, and four three-bedroom semi-detached villas. Those aged 55 and over can benefit from stylish properties with luxury hotel inspired amenities. Due for completion in early 2024 with prices starting at £380,000. Hazel Davies, sales and marketing director at Cruden Homes, said: “Today’s downsizers are looking for communities which offer more than just a place to live.”
SAND AND SONGS: The organisers describe Portobello’s Big Beach Busk as being like an all-day flash mob by the sea, or a ‘splash mob’. Founded by local musician Paul Lambie in 2010, when about 80 performers took part, it has grown into an eagerly anticipated date in the city’s events calendar, with around 400 musicians and an estimated 15,000 visitors thronging to the Prom. (Big Beach Busk, 12noon-6pm, Saturday, 26 August).
POP GOES INGLISTON: If you’re heading out to the airport as the Festival draws to a close, give yourself some extra time around Ingliston showground. The Connect Festival takes centre stage as the big ticket pop event of the summer. Tickets are still available to see big name acts including Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Fred again…, boygenius and Edinburgh’s own Young Fathers. (Connect Festival, Royal Highland Showgrounds, 25-27 August)
BEYOND THE LITTLE BLACK DRESS: The exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland takes a close look at the LBD. From a simple, short black dress designed by Coco Chanel in 1926 (radical in its day) the little black dress has become a wardrobe staple, through different iterations, over the decades. The exhibition covers a century of fashion from iconic early pieces by Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Jean Muir through to ground-breaking contemporary designers and brands like Gareth Pugh, Simone Rocha and Off-White. The exhibition features Black British designers whose work explores both Blackness in terms of identity, and the role the colour black plays. (Until 29 October, from 10am till 5pm. Free admission).
EDINBURGH FESTIVAL EXTRA
The final week of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival brings the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater bounding into the Festival Theatre, with Alvin Ailey, Kyle Abraham and Aszure Barton. This two-stage programme includes one of the most popular pieces of contemporary dance, Revelations, an American masterpiece of story-telling and soul-stirring music. In Programme One, Busk by Aszure Barton examines the multiple-layers of wisdom in the human body. (Programme 1, 23&25 August, Programme 2, 24 August, Festival Theatre.).
The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, one of Latin America’s most brilliant orchestras, bring its young ensemble to the city, first to The Hub tonight, and then for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, conducted by Rafael Payare, (24 August) and Mahler’s Symphony No 1, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (26 August), both at the Usher Hall.
Nicola Benedetti, global violinist and international Festival Director, was a little unprepared and surprisingly unrehearsed in a live performance. The BBC Front Row programme, at Dynamic Earth, was presented by Kate Molleson who asked a tough one about art funding. “An open letter was signed by over 50 authors [in fact more than 100 have now signed the letter] asking that the International Book Festival might reconsider its support from the investment firm Baillie Gifford because of links to the fossil fuel industry. Greta Thunberg cancelled her appearance at an event that was co-promoted by the International Festival. Baillie Gifford also supported the EIF, so what is your take about what is happening over the book festival just now, and what would your response be to the signatories of that letter?”
After an intake of breath, Nicola replied: “It would have been good to get a heads-up about that question.”
Which then spiked the audience’s attention for a suitable response. “Mmm, mmm. It’s obviously a very delicate issue. And we’re extremely close and in contact with the Book Festival all the time. We’re looking at all of our sponsors.” She added there was an “incredibly rigorous assessments of all the festival sponsors and their sustainability policies.”
The sponsorship issue has dominated private arts conversations all across the city. What if the big corporate players don’t want to support the arts because it damages their reputation? The Financial Times, which said it is only right and welcome that authors use their influence to campaign for political and social change, warned that the arts world could be “burning itself up in its own piety – and doing nothing to meaningfully help the cause of net zero either”.
The paper opined: “The demands are particularly frustrating because it comes, in large part, from authors who do not rely on the festival circuit or on literary prizes to promote their work or to make a living. In a world without the Edinburgh International Book Festival, signatories such as Ali Smith or Zadie Smith, will still enjoy large audiences for their work. But lower profile authors and debutants, who rely heavily on the boost in prominence that winning a prize or attending a literary festival can bring, will suffer as a result.”
OUR FIVE OF THE FESTIVAL FRINGE
Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe. Mervyn Stutter. Always a lot of surprises in this 90-minute afternoon showcase. It’s a brilliant taster for what’s not to miss. Now in its 30th years, so Merv knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. (22, 24-26 August, Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance One)).
The Coil’s Lament: Writer and Irish performer Siomha Hennessy is storming it with her musical comedy show. Her contraceptive coil is complaining about the lack of action, while Siomha would rather staple her tongue to a table than face another date with a guy looking for a girl who ‘’doesn’t take herself too seriously.” (Until 27 August, At Just the Tonic at the Mash House).
Conversations We Never Had, as People We’ll Never Be, Orange Moon Theatre Company (Scotland). Gina and Frankie have 30 minutes to decide whether or not to erase each other. Raw and reflective, says the bumph. (21-27 August, C ARTS/ C Venue/ C aquila (studio)).
Enquiry Concerning Hereafter Adam Smith’s Panmure House. If you haven’t been to Adam Smith’s final home in the Canongate [he died there in 1790], this is an opportunity to see the place and hear this historical drama about Smith and his mates in the Scottish Enlightenment. This the 300th year of Smith’s birth in Kirkcaldy in 1723. (22-27 August, Panmure House).
Blizzard Emily Woof. Emily Woof’s comic philosophical exploration of neuroscience in the former anatomy lecture theatre at the Dick Vet seems like a surefire comedy success. Plenty of material in the corridors of the venue alone. (22-27 August, Summerhall (Anatomy Lecture Theatre)).
DIARY DATES FOR YOU
One significant date for the city’s art lovers. The new Scottish gallery at the National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound opens to the public on 30th September 2023. The new extension at the National Gallery include ten galleries with over 130 works of Scottish art. [We’re also looking forward to a new public space at Granton being open to the public. More on this in future Inquirers]
World-renowned choreographer Matthew Bourne brings his Romeo + Juliet back to Edinburgh this autumn after dazzling audiences in 2019. (19-23 September, Festival Theatre).
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