A GROUP concerned at the impact on North Berwick of a high proportion of holiday lets fears the town could be at “a tipping point”.

North Berwick Environment and Heritage Trust (NBEHT) representatives met with Paul McLennan MSP, the Scottish Government’s housing minister and East Lothian MSP, to discuss the challenges facing the town.

NBEHT conducted a study last year that found that much of the housing stock in North Berwick town centre was designated as holiday let accommodation.

Its report also said that certain streets in the town had “hardly any permanent residents”.

Olwyn Owen, chair of NBEHT, told the Courier that the group’s research had uncovered that about 50% of accommodation in the centre of North Berwick was short-term lets or second homes, and that action needed to be taken to preserve the town’s character for the years to come.

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She said: “Paul is not only our MSP but also minister for housing in the Scottish Government.

“We asked to meet him as we wanted to be sure that our MSP knows that, while North Berwick is still undoubtedly ‘one of the best places to live in Scotland’, we believe it may also be at a tipping point.

“If the Scottish Government wants Scotland’s charming and historic small towns and villages to survive as sustainable communities, there needs to be a balance between the needs of local communities, whether settled here for generations or more recently arrived, and the needs of holiday visitors.

“Guaranteed year-round business from local people for local traders, boosted by tourism in the summer months, represents a sustainable model – as long as there are enough permanent residents to sustain a thriving year-round community.

“The introduction of licences for holiday lets was a first step by the Scottish Government. The next step would be for East Lothian Council to implement a control area to control the number of short-term lets.

“Our research last year showed that probably around 50 per cent of properties in the centre of North Berwick are now short-term lets or second homes, with serious implications for this community. The rapid transformation of the town centre calls for informed engagement by the trust.”

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McLennan told trust representatives at the meeting that relevant legislation was on the way but that some immediate action was possible now, especially where residents experience nuisance and inconvenience from short-term lets in buildings with shared entrances.

He said: “Where noise, rubbish, not putting the bins out or sorting recycling materials is a repeated inconvenience, and you’re telling me that sometimes there’s just one remaining resident in a stair, then the community could call for an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) to be issued.”

Responding to other questions from the trust, McLennan advised that NBEHT should take advantage of Freedom of Information legislation to aid their cause.

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He added: “Freedom of Information requests can be put forward so that East Lothian Council’s decision-making becomes transparent. It’s important to note that many relevant decisions will be made by politicians, not by council officials.

“The trust can take its arguments to councillors, MSPs for South Scotland, and myself as minister for housing and East Lothian MSP.”

Owen said afterwards that McLennan’s contribution had been helpful.

She added: “We’ll be using Freedom of Information requests to obtain more facts about the council’s decision-making and the economic arguments; encourage the community to express their views directly to councillors and MSPs; raise awareness about the topic; and get more detail on the consultation on control areas.”