Fringe accommodation update – February 2023
23 February 2023
We understand that finding affordable accommodation in Edinburgh, in August, continues to be challenging, and that this is a concerning issue for many. Here’s an update on what’s been happening since last September.
The availability and affordability of festival accommodation is not a new issue – it’s been a growing concern for many in the Fringe community over several years now – but in 2023 we have reached a perfect storm.
Edinburgh attracts thousands of visitors every August, and not just because of the summer festivals – it’s a major tourist destination, a historic capital city and a UNESCO world heritage site, not to mention August being during the summer school holidays.
In the last few years, we have also experienced major world events – the UK leaving the European Union, covid, the cost-of-living crisis and an influx of refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing conflict and emergencies in Europe and elsewhere – all of which have impacted society and cities across the UK. One of the outcomes in Edinburgh has been a significant rise in pressures on accommodation for artists, audiences, residents and the student population.
In our post-festival research conducted last autumn, accommodation was the number one issue which artists identified as the main barrier to future participation.
So, what is the problem with accommodation?
- Across Edinburgh’s summer festivals, it is estimated that 25,400 bed-nights are required for each night of Edinburgh’s 25-day peak August season.
- Edinburgh is a small city, with a population of around 500,000; this is growing rapidly and the city itself is struggling to provide adequate accommodation for all its citizens. This situation is reflected in cities up and down the country.
- Visitors to Edinburgh are increasingly opting for cheaper accommodation in self-catering units and via online platforms, such as AirBnb; this has increased competitiveness of the more affordable options for festival artists and workers.
- New legislation on short-term lets has been introduced by Scottish Government, and is being implemented by local authorities around Scotland, including City of Edinburgh Council (CEC); this will further reduce both the affordability and availability of temporary accommodation in the city (see below).
In line with our core objectives, the Fringe Society continues to lobby and advocate on behalf of artists for affordable and suitable accommodation; however, we ultimately don’t have any power or influence over charges set by landlords, short-term letting agents, self-catering organisations or other accommodation providers.
What is the Short-Term Lets (STL) legislation?
In an attempt to improve the availability of permanent homes and bring more stock to the market for residents, and to introduce enhanced health and safety requirements for short-term lets, the Scottish Government have introduced new Short-Term Let legislation.
Local authorities (such as CEC) are responsible for implementing the legislation, and have flexibility to introduce additional criteria – for example, a local authority can decide which areas in their city will form part of the controlled zone. CEC have decided that the whole of the local authority (ie all of Edinburgh) will be a control zone.
There are two specific parts to the legislation:
- Planning permission is required for all secondary lets within the control zone (secondary lets is where someone lets out property that is not their main residence).
- Licencing is required for all short-term lets; this includes a list of mandatory safety requirements to be implemented in the properties at the owners’ expense. This applies to secondary lets, home-sharing and home-letting, the latter two referring to rooms in the owner's main residence. The legislation also allows for up to six weeks’ licencing letting exemption.
As Edinburgh residents ourselves, we understand and are not opposed to the ethos behind the increased controls set out in the legislation, but we do challenge the CEC interpretation of it, such as not fully activating the temporary exemptions. The unintended consequences of this interpretation mean that there will be significantly fewer affordable options for festival participants if it is fully implemented in the current format being proposed by CEC.
Our lobbying and advocacy work
Alongside our sister festivals and others in the tourism sector, we’ve lobbied against the CEC’s interpretation of the legislation and have seen some positive steps: the implementation of the legislation has been delayed by six months, until October 2023 (ie after this year’s festival), enabling Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to discuss the legislation in more detail and decide whether to clarify, reduce or eliminate the scope of various interpretations at local level.
We continue to lobby CEC to incorporate the six weeks’ exemption to the mandatory conditions during the Fringe period, for home-letting and home-sharing, to allow Edinburgh residents to rent out space in their own homes for artists without having to undertake expensive and extensive work.
Residents have been sharing their homes with Fringe artists since the early days of the Fringe; the Fringe Society has facilitated this in recent years through partnership with Theatre Digs Booker, an online platform that caters specifically to artists and whose rates are capped to keep them affordable. The above changes in planning permission and licencing consent make it harder for new hosts to join Theatre Digs Booker (the six-month delay to the legislation only applies to existing hosts, ie those with previous letting experience).
You may have seen some venues or stakeholders quoting different numbers or information with regards to short-term lets. Everyone has a different take on the situation; our data is based on information sourced from a variety of individuals and organisations.
What else is the Fringe Society doing about accommodation?
The STL issue has major ramifications for the Fringe in 2024 and beyond, creating an even greater impact on what accommodation is available. In the shorter term, we’ve been working tirelessly to help artists find accommodation for Fringe 2023.
- Our edfringe.com artists’ accommodation portal is updated as rooms become available, so it’s worth checking back regularly. We’re approaching everyone we can think of, both within and outside of Edinburgh, to be part of it, including schools, colleges and universities. (If you’re reading this and think you can help, drop us a line! You can reach us on [email protected].)
- We have been speaking to transport providers about how transport links can be improved and/or extended, and what creative options can be used to access areas outside Edinburgh.
- Others in the Fringe community, including venues, are exploring alternative options too – reach out to your venue contact to see if and how they can help.
- We’ve been working with partners across the city to explore creative accommodation solutions including ships, tents, yurts and vacant shops. However, we’re unable to secure commitment on these plans until we can establish full-scale of cost and feasibility for this summer. Rest assured, if any of these plans turn out to be viable, we’ll be shouting about it.
- Many have suggested an Olympics-style village could be built for the Fringe. While it seems like an ideal solution, these villages take three-to-five years to build and cost in excess of £500mn; they are typically used long-term for social housing following the events, which only take place every four years and in a different country each time. A pop-up style village that is operational every single year would cost between £500,000 and £750,000 to set up. The Fringe Society does not have access to the kind of funding provided to major one-off events.
We’ve spent hours, days, weeks and months dedicated to this issue across our team, and we’re continuing to do all we can in a challenging market of privately owned accommodation in a city struggling with a housing crisis. But we're a very small charity who have to support every aspect to help make the Fringe happen. Rest assured though, we are on your side.
General advice on finding and booking accommodation
- Try to book as early as possible, and always through official channels – don't go for an offer that’s too good to be true on an unregulated ‘classifieds’ site (especially if they want BACS transfers – you may get scammed).
- Where possible, please make sure you have accommodation booked before you register your show.
- Ask your venue for help – they’re there to support you.
- Really consider what types of accommodation could work for you – could you stay further afield and enjoy the quieter parts of the city or neighbouring areas?
- Check our artist accommodation portal regularly and get in touch with letting agents – with student property coming onto the market later in spring, it can’t hurt to be on several agents’ waiting lists.
- Contact our team. We’re here 10:00 till 18:00, Monday to Friday. We’re real people, we’re here to help, and we 100% understand how frustrating this whole thing is. Our contact details are below.
- Keep the faith! We have been reassured that some artists have found good and affordable accommodation, so we know it’s still out there.
Get in touch
If you have any questions or suggestions – or, if you think you can help – please contact our team. We’re here to support you in any way we can.
- Email [email protected].
- Call +44 (0)131 226 0026 and select option three.