2007 - 2021

The Pandemic and the City: urban overhaul, or ‘back to normal’?

Bella’s European Feature Writer Ben Wray looks at Barcelona, Paris, London and Berlin to find out how different European cities are responding in the wake of the pandemic crisis. 

For a moment, everything about the city changed. At the peak of pandemic lockdown, the car no longer dominated the roads. Large swathes of commercial property were suddenly completely redundant. Tourist flats lay empty. We could breath easier in the street and did not have to shout to be heard over the traffic. Crowded areas became open spaces.

Lockdown gave us a unique insight into just how malleable the urban environment is, and that the one we have accepted for so long as ‘just the way of things’ is in fact just one city regime, one we can overthrow permanently if we want to. Radical urbanism seems less utopian today than it was before covid-19; we’ve glimpsed a different city.

The drift back to the pre-pandemic city regime – designed to maximise the interests of rentier capitalists at the expense of our collective social and environmental future – was inevitable out-with an active political agent pressing for permanent structural change. The strong gravitational pull towards ‘back to normal’ has had its effect. Despite this, across Europe there are important examples – good and bad – of where the drift is being confronted by those seeking permanent reconstruction of the city post-pandemic.

Barcelona and the “superblock programme”

Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau was an anti-evictions activist before winning election to the top job in the Catalan capital in the 2015 municipal elections. Her citizen platform ‘Barcelona En Comu’ are committed to a politics of radical municipalism, and responded to the pandemic by accelerating their policy agenda, including:

  • Stepping up the fining and expropriation of properties left empty by landlords in the city and using them for emergency housing accommodation;
  • Pedestrianising public space, creating new cycle lanes and allowing restaurants and bars to set-up tables in space that was previously for cars to aid social distancing in hospitality;
  • Supporting the “grassroots cultural sector” through a voucher scheme providing citizens with a 25% subsidy on all purchases at local bookshops, theatres, concert halls and cinemas;
  • Supporting community organisations to stay in contact with one another by providing safe municipal spaces to meet and free videoconferencing facilities.

In November 2020, Barcelona City Council launched it’s 10 year vision for the “superblock programme”, a plan to turn the central district of Eixample from a concrete jungle with dangerously high levels of air pollution into an urban paradise, with homes never more than 200 metres from a public square or green hub; local spaces where people can relax, exercise, socialise, play, and community can start to develop where previously there was only traffic.

In combination with the rent controls introduced by the Catalan Parliament last year, the superblocks should make urban space more liveable without further gentrifying the city in the process. However, superblocks will have to be extended well beyond the Eixample district, which is relatively wealthy, to make the concept truly egalitarian.

There are currently six green hubs, with 11 more being introduced over the next three years, and if the plan is fully implemented one out of every three streets in Eixample will be a green hub. And what are currently congested crossroads will become 21 new public squares.

Inevitably, the superblock programme has incurred the wrath of the motor lobby, but council leaders don’t seem too concerned, as the response from citizens has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People think they have a right to go where they like in a private vehicle, but it’s not a right, it’s a privilege,” Janet Sanz, deputy mayor of Barcelona, told the Guardian. “What is a right is the right to breathe clean air. Individual rights shouldn’t be allowed to take precedence over the rights of the collective.”

The health impact of housing inequalities was acutely felt when lockdowns hit Europe, with those in small flats trapped while the fortunate in houses with big gardens were free to go outside and exercise. One route to addressing this problem is by making urban public space accessible and green.

“In a Mediterranean city, the street is an extension of our homes,” Sanz adds. “The health crisis has shown that many people live in small flats and for them the street is very important.”

Barcelona has also been one of the cities to suffer most from over-tourism over the past decade, with only Edinburgh having more AirBNBs per resident out of European cities. A licensing regime for short-term lets, which requires listings to display an ID number to show they are licensed, has seen the number of short-term lets fall significantly.

Rather than the disappearance of tourists during the pandemic leading the city council to take its foot off the gas when it comes to controlling short-term lets, Colau announced in February new proposals whereby people can rent rooms in their own homes only for 30 days or more. This is to adjust to AirBNB’s new strategy in the city, which is to encourage short-term lets in houses which, officially at least, are also lived in by their owners. The problem for the council is that to police whether owners really are staying in the homes while AirBNB guests are there would be expensive, so this reform seeks to cut-off that route for short-term letting altogether.

According to the council, the reform would “guarantee the social function of housing and avoid a saturation of tourist rooms that would cause problems of coexistence, impact the housing market and harm neighbourhood trade.”

Paris and the “ville du quart d’heure”

Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo’s embrace of the “15-minute city” concept as a key plank of her 2020 re-election campaign was just the start of the idea’s popularity, which has since become the new big thing in urban planning circles following the pandemic.

The relationship between time, space and quality of life is at the heart of Professor Carlos Moreno of the Sorbonne University in Paris’ idea. With home-working a now realistic prospect for potentially hundreds of millions of workers in Europe, the idea that you could actually have everything you need within a 15-minute diameter from your home suddenly appears realistic for many.

“It is time to move from city planning to urban life planning,” Moreno writes. “This means transforming the urban space, which is still highly mono-functional, with central city and its various specialised areas, into polycentric city, based on four major components: proximity, diversity, density and ubiquity, in order to offer this quality of life within short distances, across the six essential urban social functions: living, working, supplying, caring, learning and enjoying.”

Hidalgo, who won her re-election campaign, has begun to implement some of her manifesto commitments connected to the “ville du quart d’heure” concept, most recently announcing plans for a “Limited Traffic Zone”, which will give priority on the roads to cyclists and pedestrians.

“Through traffic, that is, vehicles crossing the area without stopping there, will be generally prohibited,” the proposal, which is out for consultation, states.

The 15-minute city idea is not exactly new – Copenhagen in Denmark and Utrecht in the Netherlands have long since introduced the idea of hyper proximity into urban planning. But the triple combination of climate breakdown, the pandemic and the mental health crisis has breathed new life into the notion that public and environmental health are deeply interconnected with place.

The question that remains is whether the 15-minute city is really just a concept for the middle classes?  One academic study of Hidalgo’s 15-minute city plan praised many of its features, but found that there was a risk “of creating a socially polarised city”.

“Paris en Commun is a plan concerning the inner ring area, only a part of the Greater Paris Metropolis, inhabited mainly by affluent Parisians and with property prices that rose even during the pandemic,” the study finds. “Greening and pedestrianising large parts of Paris may impose great challenges in providing inclusive and diverse housing and make the city of Paris inaccessible to lower-income suburban commuters.”

The test of concept’s like the 15-minute city, and indeed the Superblock programme, is not whether it can work in areas with a boutique grocery selling fresh fruit & veg on every corner, but in districts of the city where affordability trumps proximity every time.

London’s class-divided office-to-flats conversions

At the other end of the spectrum from the 15-minute city is the displacement city, where those in need of housing in Central London end up shifted to the outskirts, where they know no one and often are a long distance away from jobs and amenities. Increasingly, displaced Londoners end up in out-of-town offices which have been converted into homes.

Office-to-flats conversions took off after David Cameron’s Tory Government changed planning laws in England in 2013, so that offices could be converted to flats without full planning permission. In 2019 deregulation was expanded so that old offices could be knocked down and replaced by new build housing without full planning permission. The lack of planning permission meant good house design went out of the window – room sizes were shrunk, daylight in homes was reduced (there was even cases of flats without windows) and the need for access to green space utterly ignored.

Picture: An office-to-flat conversion in the London borough of Lambeth.

 

In the context of the pandemic crisis, where many more offices are now lying dormant and with little prospect of them suddenly being filled up with workers again, many of whom can do all the same tasks from home, the potential for an avalanche of new horror stories of office to flat conversions is real. A rule change in August last year means that the same could become true of empty retail lots on high streets, which can now also be converted into flats without planning permission in England.

“They will offer very little privacy and risk overheating in summer and excess cold in winter,” Julia Park, the head of housing research at the architects Levitt Bernstein, told the Guardian.

Conversions of offices and high street lots into housing is not a bad concept in and of itself. We should be seeking to move away from ever-more out-of-town, poor quality new build estates. But if they are replaced by even poorer quality conversions nothing has been gained. What is required is a proper local planning policy to examine where office and retail lot conversions can be done in a way which produces good quality homes and in places where residents can be part of thriving communities.

There is of course plenty of examples of high-quality conversions, but they tend to be found in the upper end of London’s property market. The most high-profile is the City of London’s recent announcement that it would be converting office space into 1,500 flats. The Square Mile financial district only has 7,850 houses currently. The pitch to potential buyers includes ‘traffic-free weekends’ and ‘all-night celebrations’, something that definitely was not offered to residents moving into Shield House in Harlow.

Berlin’s movement to cap the rent

One of the curious questions of the pandemic is: why did it not disrupt the housing market more? One would expect with sharply declining incomes and rising unemployment that the knock-on effect would be declining house prices and private rents. But in the EU in 2020, house prices rose 5.5%, while in just three EU countries that year did private rents fall: Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia.

What this highlights is the importance of politics as much as economics in understanding the present housing market. A regulatory system and monetary policy designed to ensure ever-rising asset price inflation won’t be easily derailed, not even by a pandemic. But something has to give in a crisis, and that something in this case is an even greater share of household income going to landlords. As the World Economic Forum admits, “covid-19 has resulted in many Europeans paying a greater share of their earnings on rent”.

One of the most important rental markets in Europe is the German one, since it is much larger than the European average, making up almost 55% of the total housing stock. Germany’s rental market was also, for many years, very cheap compared to much of Europe, but rents have been rising at 5% a year since 2016, and 6% in the biggest cities, including Berlin, where rents rose 27% from 2013 to 2019.

Picture: ‘Wir Bleiben Alle’: ‘We All Remain’, a group campaigning for affordable rents in Berlin.

 

The response has been a movement which pressured the city-state government to introduce a rent cap, which came into effect in February 2020. Prices were frozen at their June 2019 level on nearly all apartments for five years, new rental contracts could not exceed that rate and some landlords were forced to reduce their rates. Tenants were even empowered to sue their landlord for reduced rents, in what was one of the most ambitious rent caps anywhere in Europe.

However, in April the Constitutional Court overturned the Berlin rent cap, ruling that since there was already a law regulating rents nation-wide, the Berlin Government didn’t have the power to introduce its own controls. Some landlords included “shadow rents” into contracts if the court found the Cap to be unconstitutional, and are now demanding back-dated rent and preparing big increases.

Berliners are taking to the streets in protest, with organisers stating 10,000 demonstrated at the end of May to “stop the rent madness!”. Demonstrators and tenants’ unions are also demanding that the Berlin Government expropriate private-sector rental housing from major-property owning companies.

Conclusion

There is a mixed picture across Europe when it comes to where cities are going in wake of the pandemic crisis. On the one hand there are signs that, as the growth engine begins to pick up steam again again, all the prior trends in the urban environment towards greater inequality and alienation may be little changed by the pandemic. On the other hand, there are examples of a new energy developing behind the simple idea that cities should be sustainable and liveable for all. The future of Europe’s cities remains in the balance, with everything to fight for.

 

Comments (18)

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  1. Tom Hubbard says:

    I read this and thought ‘Patrick Geddes’. His 1904 book CITY DEVELOPMENT, on the potential for Dunfermline, anticipates much that’s here.

  2. Schotse Schatje van het Pindakaashoekje bij Ezelshof met Vla says:

    A bit of a one sided article which seems to be promoting a hidden narrative of a socialist style approach to housing hidden in a title which ostensibly appears to be about a short term response to urban planning due to the pandemic!

    “Barcelona has also been one of the cities to suffer most from over-tourism over the past decade, with only Edinburgh having more AirBNBs per resident out of European cities. A licensing regime for short-term lets, which requires listings to display an ID number to show they are licensed, has seen the number of short-term lets fall significantly.”

    Note the adjectives “SUFFERING from OVER-tourism” – lest the reader wish to think for themselves, you are told what to think in advance. It really is baffling how people fall for these SNP planted publishings to justify their next legislative policy, pegged onto a few coat-tails of European “examples”. I note that the writer doesn’t mention that Utrecht and indeed The Netherlands as a whole has had a bedroom tax equivalent policy for years – but its much harsher – you will be forced to move out of state sector accommodation if you under- occupy. Unlike the author, I used to live in Utrecht, and also in Munchen, where its almost impossible to rent an apartment because theres so much competition. Same in Utrecht actually, where there are of course no rent controls on private landlords.

    Back to the alleged “over-tourism” – how terrible that people should come in from elsewhere AND SPEND MONEY THEY HAVE EARNED! Ban them! License them! Limit them! Cancel them too – once Scotland quickly gains a reputation for having holiday lets cancelled by the State, that should really do the trick of putting off those pesky tourists. After all, Norways got much better scenery and you can stay in a hytte for 5 days, sourced on AirBnB, for the price of a 1 night stay in a guest house on the Isle of Bute (I actually did that at the weekend, and not only was Bute empty of tourists (goal achieved, Scottish Government!) I learned that it has suffered 10% population loss in the last 10 years and saw many boarded up, abandoned town centre commercial premises in Rothesay). I have actually, somewhat optimistically, booked a 6 night stay in self catering in Overijssel for the price of 2 nights in that guest house in Bute too, for September).

    The real reason the SNP is pushing for all this harmful over-licensing (see what I did there) is to create niche little industries for their cronies in a failing economy. The Scottish Government doesn’t have enough money coming in via tax receipts from business and working people paying income tax (less than 50% of working age adults in Scotland pay income tax). What to do? Council tax is already as high as people can afford. So lets license everything property related! Not like Spain does in areas with lots of tourism, lets just license the entire country! Think of the revenue and the control! We can create local authority departments to regulate it, we can make up over the top requirements such a fireproof letterboxes and sophisticated intumescent door seals which can only provided by approximately 1 company in that local authority, conveniently owned by the uncle of the guy who works in the licensing department, and force people to pay through the nose to get them installed.

    Better still, CLOSE DOWN these holiday lets (after all, who wants people from OUTSIDE SCOTLAND coming here on holiday and having fun) and refuse to grant them HMO licenses, meaning the owners have no choice but to agree to rent them to the council to house the homeless, thus conveniently turning our city centres into no-go areas at the same time! Genius! Have you been in Aberdeen city centre recently?

    After all, people going on holiday to self catering accommodation is really something that shouldn’t happen in Scotland, don’t you agree? Everything must be sanctioned by state here. Tough if your great grandparents suffered from the Highland Clearances and moved to the Central Belt for work and to survive, don’t think about spending some of your hard earned cash in the de-populated village they left in the north with hopes of retiring there one day unless you peg it first – this is heavily discouraged in modern Scotland. Stay in state sanctioned over-priced accommodation instead, or better still, spend your money buying a holiday home in France.

    So once we’ve achieved the most expensive, over-regulated but safest holiday accommodation on the planet, driven away cruise ship passengers and holiday home owners and deterred the few brave tourists left by The Lecture on Rules (my stay on Bute involved a 15 minute lecture and a compulsory written exam, ok I exaggerate slightly), for every visitor to Scotland now, what industries does Scotland have left?

    I actually do feel that a small bunch of incompetents (or as my mother would have described them, “jumped up nothings”) are in charge of both urban planning and economic planning in Scotland right now. They literally have no ideas, except short term bans and licensing of things to get money quickly. But they cannot see the larger picture. The impression being created is that Scotland doesn’t want tourists, except a few very well heeled ones who will pay through the nose for the privilege. To suggest that what is being done in Scotland is in any way related to typical Dutch town planning (why do they always refer to my dear Utrecht as if it is in some way connected to this mess?) is utter nonsense. The Netherlands has deliberately refused planning permission for large out of town supermarkets and your Jumbos, your Albert Heins, even your Hemas, are integrated into urban areas. Out of town retail parks like South Gyle, Hermiston Gait, etc, etc are incredibly rare and heavily discouraged. Rented housing outside the state sector is so un-regulated that I don’t think that your average Scottish tenant would even be able to get up a Dutch staircase, never mind dealing with the typically ageing decor, single glazed windows, lack of smoke alarms and no fire exits. No chaining of walls to cookers there, unlike in Scotland following the once-in-a-hundred-years incident when one tenant pulled a cooker on top of them, you’re lucky not to be set alight while cooking your dinner on the 30 year old beast.

    Best thing to do is educate yourselves by actually living and working abroad, compare and contrast, drop the xenophobia and look outwards rather than banning and licensing everything. Its creating a controlled environment in Scotland that is really stressful to live in. Living in fear of the next Scottish Government ban or restriction of freedom really isn’t very nice (what happened to the Named Persons legislation by the way? Just what will be position of women wanting to discuss women’s issues after the Hate Crime Act comes fully into force?)

    Oh, and we need to encourage people to read newspapers written by journalists from a neutral perspective, not this sort of hidden agenda internet publishing to an already fairly biased audience which needs a masters degree in European competition law and a thesis in constitutional law to debunk it.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Although to be fair, Sweetheart, Bella is a political blog and does not claim neutrality or impartiality. However, its voices carry a range of perspectives, and its Comments sections allow for the possibility of critique, which is not always the case with political blogs and makes it one of the better ones.

      Ben’s critique of tourism and your critique of his critique are both valid contributions to the dialectic that operates here.

      1. Schotse Schatje van het Pindakaashoekje bij Ezelshof met Vla says:

        I’m anything but a “sweetheart” Colin (and no, that is not what Schatje means in Dutch if you step away from google translate that is).

        I am aware of all that you say, well done! Does it add anything substanital to the discussion? Mmmn, a moot point.

      2. Colin Robinson says:

        Fair enough, Babe. I wasn’t adding anything substantial to the discussion; I was just addressing your complaint about the lack of neutrality.

        Can there ever be such a thing as a neutral/impartial perspective? That’s also a moot point. Maybe the best we can hope for is a ‘forcefield’ of charged/partial perspectives that none can comprehend but within which we each occupy a more or less unique individual position. Maybe Truth is plural rather than singular.

        But I agree with your point that, under the present Scottish government, we seem to be heading towards an increasingly administered life and less independence.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          ‘…heading towards an increasingly administered life and away from independence’ even.

        2. Colin Robinson says:

          I’m also wary of those who are proposing that we tax temporary migrants, who come to our cities to take advantage of the recreational opportunities they afford, in order to deter them from swamping us and degrading our indigenous cultures.

    2. There’s so much going on in this comment I don’t know where to begin.

      You write: “A bit of a one sided article” … I mean it’s a writer writing a column, it’s kind of gonna be ‘one-sided’, right?
      You write: “a hidden narrative of a socialist style approach” – this is sinister I admit. We are secret commies. Sorry/not sorry.
      You write: “Note the adjectives “SUFFERING from OVER-tourism” – lest the reader wish to think for themselves, you are told what to think in advance.” You’re really not told what to think, you’re just reading an article with a view you haven’t come across before and this seems to have caused some major malfunctioning for you.
      You can read our critique of over-tourism here, but it will probably make you very angry, again sorry/not sorry:

      https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/08/11/artwash-over-tourism-and-edinburgh/
      https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2020/01/05/globalisation-in-a-snow-globe/
      https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2019/04/07/148-is-the-new-7-84/
      https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2018/10/19/park-life/

      I can’t quite follow your flow that covers everything from Bute, the Highland Clearances, your mother, death by non-chained cookers, Hate Crimes, and much else.

      But I can say with some confidence that the author isn’t part of a sinister plot to write for “these SNP planted publishings”.

      I do love your suggestion that “we need to encourage people to read newspapers written by journalists from a neutral perspective, not this sort of hidden agenda internet publishing”.

      Genuinely one of the funniest commments I’ve ever read. Thank you.

      1. Schatje - rustig aan says:

        I’m a little surprised you cannot reply without the mockery and belittling, but I realise that challenging people’s entrenched viewpoints can be challenging for some. What is going on in Scotland now that any differing viewpoint is met with insults and personal abuse?

        I’ll have the decency to respond to your points.

        1. You write: “A bit of a one sided article” … I mean it’s a writer writing a column, it’s kind of gonna be ‘one-sided’, right?

        Not really. Good journalism and indeed good writing, is all about being neutral and presenting all sides to an argument, then coming to a critically analysed summary or conclusion. Suggesting the interpretation from the beginning by using highly emotive, biased language just isn’t doing that – instead its presenting a biased viewpoint, presented as “correctthink”. If you find someone pointing that out “funny”, well, that does’nt really say much at all.

        And its not really a “column” either – this is an internet source, not a newspaper column. Its tempting to think they’re similar, but they’re not.

        2. You write: “a hidden narrative of a socialist style approach” – this is sinister I admit. We are secret commies. Sorry/not sorry.

        State control of the extent that we now have in Scotland is a form of socialism. I can’t comment on whether you are a “secret commie” or not. Its not relevant. However, the increasing use of legislation which is in breach of fundamental and human rights is of concern, and it would likely prejudice any application by an independent Scotland to the EU, as it doesn’t accord with the legal “acquis” which is required. At the very least, all EU membership applications, if accepted, involve the EU Commission examining the laws of the country in detail and recommending adjustments, so why does Scotland keep passing legislation that doesn’t comply with EU competition law? The new Hate Crime legislation is appalling and the Law Society of Scotland objected to it but were ignored.

        Again, perhaps this is wandering too far from the original narrative for you, but since your original narrative is so wide ranging and piecemeal, I framed my response in the same vein.

        3. You write: “Note the adjectives “SUFFERING from OVER-tourism” – lest the reader wish to think for themselves, you are told what to think in advance.” You’re really not told what to think, you’re just reading an article with a view you haven’t come across before and this seems to have caused some major malfunctioning for you.

        I refer you back to my point 1. The correct term for this is purposive thinking – you frame the answer early on in the narrative. Good writing does not do this. Intead, you could use evidence to back up your points, in place of the emotive adjectives. You are also aware that it is possible to hold differing viewpoints? Why so upset? Why publish at all if you don’t want to be critiqued?

        What would have been interesting would have been if the article had discussed the differing regimes that sit alongside the very piecemeal examples given of what the author assumes are heavily controlled rental and tourism sectors, and compared them to Scotland rather more thoroughly. That is interesting.

        I agree that publishing on an internet site is probably the way to go if you can’t cope with multi-level criticism. If you have any links to properly published peer reviewed articles or actual newspaper columns that you have had published, I’m willing to read them. As for more informal internet site stuff – is there really any point in wading through all of that when there are better sources which give a more complete overview?

        1. Dear Schatje – rustig aan – thanks for your reply.

          1. I’m a bit confused by the point your making, you say: “this an internet source, not a newspaper column”. Are you aware that newspapers are also “on the internet”?

          I’m concerned with your idea that “good writing is all about being neutral”. Really? When you think of your favourite writers do you think “I really like this writer, he’s thoroughly neutral!”
          Do you? Examples would be welcome.

          2. You write: “State control of the extent that we now have in Scotland is a form of socialism.” I’m shocked by this but also slightly euphoric, you see I really am a secret commie.

          3. You write: “Why so upset? Why publish at all if you don’t want to be critiqued?” I’m not upset at all, this is great.

          You write: ‘If you have any links to properly published peer reviewed articles or actual newspaper columns that you have had published, I’m willing to read them.” That really is very very generous of you. You can read me in the Guardian or the Herald or the National, all PROPER newspapers not “bad hidden agenda internet publishing” but I’m afraid my views are similar over there too.

          1. R Flex's Pinda says:

            Hi Editor.

            No, I’m not in the least bit “confused” about newspapers also appearing on the internet. Why would you think anyone would be?

            “I’m concerned with your idea that “good writing is all about being neutral”. Really? When you think of your favourite writers do you think “I really like this writer, he’s thoroughly neutral!”
            Do you? Examples would be welcome.”

            I don’t really see what this has to do with the debate on control of tourism, however I might suggest Jalte Rasmussen or even Montesquieu would be a better source of neutral presentation of an argument working towards a critically analysed conclusion. But just about any peer reviewed author does this, otherwise they wouldn’t be accepted for publication. I’m sure you know this so I do get the impression that you are simply writing about your personal viewpoints, rather than a well researched article. And its unfortunate if thats accepted by newspapers. I generally want to read the news, not personal opinions.

            “2. You write: “State control of the extent that we now have in Scotland is a form of socialism.” I’m shocked by this but also slightly euphoric, you see I really am a secret commie.”

            Again, I don’t see what your personal preferences have to do with this debate. Why should your views be assumed to be correct?

            “3. You write: “Why so upset? Why publish at all if you don’t want to be critiqued?” I’m not upset at all, this is great.”

            You do give the impression of being utterly astonished to be challenged, particularly where you have to resort to mocking and belittling me. This is fairly normal criticism of writing that would happen if you e.g. sought academic publication. At least I would hope so!

            “You write: ‘If you have any links to properly published peer reviewed articles or actual newspaper columns that you have had published, I’m willing to read them.” That really is very very generous of you. You can read me in the Guardian or the Herald or the National, all PROPER newspapers not “bad hidden agenda internet publishing” but I’m afraid my views are similar over there too.”

            Thats good to know that you are indeed so important. Do you alter your style of writing? I’d probably get blacklisted in my field if I made comments along the lines which you made in your first response to me. I do think theres a bit of a lacuna in Scotland in terms of discussion, if my initial reply produced such sharp intakes of breath. I can’t imagine such a reaction in any other Western European country. Its really important not to shut down debate by trying to belittle or patronise others.

            And Gary Robinson – please stop with your attempts at interpreting Dutch – unfortunately it sounds creepy when you get the context wrong. You can just use the Dutch phrase.

          2. Hi “R Flex’s Pinda” – thanks for your comment. I’m not “simply writing about your personal viewpoints” – the author is. It’s an Opinion piece. People write about their opinion. This seems to have confused you.

            In terms of writing for newspapers you ask “That’s good to know that you are indeed so important. Do you alter your style of writing?”. No. Not at all. I’m not important at all but your bizarre distinction between BAD internet journalism like the forum you are interacting no just now and GOOD newspapers is clearly drivel. Sorry/not sorry.

          3. Hi R Flex’s Pinda
            so there are a few different types of media output. One is News coverage which attempts to be objective and state the facts of an issue without editorialising, an other is Opinion. Your are reading a site which specialises mostly in Opinion and analysis, so when you say “I do get the impression that you are simply writing about your personal viewpoints” – it’s true!

            How much fun is that?

          4. R Flex's Pinda says:

            Editor wrote: “so there are a few different types of media output. One is News coverage which attempts to be objective and state the facts of an issue without editorialising, an other is Opinion. Your are reading a site which specialises mostly in Opinion and analysis, so when you say “I do get the impression that you are simply writing about your personal viewpoints” – it’s true!”

            Yes, the point I’m making. Which is why its open for discussion – again stating the obvious. In my field, we have a hierarchy of sources, from the formal to the less formal. You must exhaust the formal sources before using informal sources, such as newspaper articles. I’m sure you know this and I’m stating the obvious.

            “Hi “R Flex’s Pinda” – thanks for your comment. I’m not “simply writing about your personal viewpoints” – the author is. It’s an Opinion piece. People write about their opinion. This seems to have confused you.”

            No, I’m not confused. This is what I have stated all along. Its a non-attributed article published on the internet which has generated debate. I don’t see any particular confusion or controversy.

            Back to the substantive points raised by the article:

            Tourist accommodation in Scotland is likely to become very expensive in European terms due to the policy of the Scottish Government to license all of it by 2023. This is unprecedented in Europe, and I think is unknown anywhere else in the world. We do see tourists hotspots license accommodation, particularly the Spanish resorts, but not an entire country. It is a massive workload, likely to entail the expansion of existing local authority licensing departments, which already struggle to recruit qualified staff and to deal with their existing workloads.

            It will also greatly increase costs for the consumer (the tourist) because it will decrease competition on the market. Now, your article didn’t address the issue of competition law or consumer care (which are what the European single market is based upon) but basically the idea is to keep regulation light and uniform so that consumers can rely on basic standards done well, which leads to competitive pricing and standardised quality.

            Don’t think that the EU Commission is unwilling to rap the knuckles of countries’ management of their own property market – this is why the Dutch have had to limit mortgage interest tax relief to the value of FTBs. But thats a taxation measure, which is always preferred by the EU over other more punitive measures, because it doesn’t harm consumer interests or reduce competition on the market.

            So what the Scottish Government wants to do is to introduce a completely new regime of the strictest property regulation in the world, and we don’t really see consumer concerns being addressed. Its all about what the Government wants to do, and I do suspect its more about income generation and creating new niche industries than genuine concerns. Tourism is really the mark of a successful and popular country, not a scourge. Its a very odd attitude to take in Scotland, which is heavily dependent upon the tourism industry.

            The obvious initial problem is that small players will drop out of the market. The rural dweller with a caravan or the farmer thinking of investing in a glamping cabin may decide its all too much bother for a 3 month season in the summer and drop out. We then tend to see larger players monopolise the market and prices go up.

            All this leads to more expensive holiday accommodation in Scotland. Its already expensive here – I wasn’t joking when I said that I’ve booked 5 days in a guest house in Overijssel for the same price as 2 days in a rather less salubrious one on Bute.

            So Scotland gets a reputation for being expensive compared to other countries. Not great for the tourist industry.

            But the other problem that you didn’t discuss in your article, is that the policy of the Scottish Government right now is for local authorities to close down unlicensed holiday accommodation if there is a single complaint. So not only do people who have booked accommodation in Scotland risk having their holiday cancelled with little notice, this is also a breach of the Fundamental right of every person to be heard before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken, or at least it would be if the UK hadn’t voted to leave the EU.

            So the Scottish Government could not have done this but for Brexit – its a clear breach of Article 41 of the Charter (don’t confuse with the ECHR: https://fra.europa.eu/en/eu-charter/article/41-right-good-administration

            Its almost certainly going to be bad for consumers, so who will it be good for? Government, local authorities (more fees, more employees), those who want to run businesses in this niche field to carry out adaptation work on holiday lets. And dare I say, communists who seem to want to prevent everyone from enjoying themselves and some of whom work themselves into a frenzy over the prospect of people coming from elsewhere to enjoy a non state sanctioned holiday.

            Is it necessary? The rest of the world seems to get along just fine without licensing every single holiday let. I can see the point in the Spanish resorts licensing their holiday accommodation, because Spain doesn’t have such reliable or robust building standards as us and have massive numbers of entire holiday apartments blocks. Again, parts of Belgium require licensing, but the safety standards aren’t that strict. But what is the need for an occasional let in Scotland, where building standards are already the strictest in Europe? Its illogical, unless its explained by the need for income generation by the State.

            All those summer language schools in Edinburgh use part time landlords extensively.

            So ….. Scotland only becomes a holiday destination for the wealthy? People are deterred from coming here to stay because it gains a reputation for tourists being unwelcome unless they pay very high prices for state-sanctioned accommodation? Is this likely to benefit Scotland in the long term? Its cheaper to go to Switzerland or Norway for a self catering holiday now, and I’m in Scotland!

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            I could indeed just use the Dutch phrase, Doll, but it’s not as much fun.

        2. Time, the Deer says:

          Contrary to popular assumptions, less than 5% of Scotland’s GDP comes from tourism.

          https://www.gov.scot/policies/tourism-and-events/#:~:text=Spending%20by%20tourists%20in%20Scotland,5%25%20of%20total%20Scottish%20GDP.

          If tourists think our accommodation is too expensive and go elsewhere, fine – we don’t need them. What we do need is affordable housing and liveable towns and cities for the people who live here. Sorry you didn’t enjoy your trip to Bute.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Aye, but in addition to the £6b that tourism contributes to our GDP, it also generates around £12b’s worth of economic activity for the wider supply chain. That’s not to be sniffed at.

            The Scottish government also identifies tourism as a potential growth sector and is seeking to build on ‘existing advantages’ to increase the industry’s productivity. Honeybunch does raise a good question as to how the Scottish government squares this ambition with the demand to restrict the migration of transient settlers into our towns and cities to the exclusion of their natives and the ruination of their indigenous character; that is, to be far less welcoming.

            Perhaps we should get Nigel Farage on the case. He could do some ‘Breaking Point’ posters for VisitScotland.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    How about the anti-social behaviours? In terms of pandemic impact on crime, how is European traffic-related crime affected by the pandemic and these special zones? I was also wondering about the pandemic impact on organized crime, since reading a piece on Marbella: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/may/20/a-united-nations-of-how-marbella-became-a-magnet-for-gangsters
    It may be that some improvements could diplace these international crime congregation hotspots, perhaps to somewhere more welcoming (maybe the City of London would be ideal but for the weather and lack of beach access in the square mile).

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