Curb on short-term lets: too little too late?

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The Scottish Government announced this week that local authorities are to be given new powers to regulate short-term lets where they decide this is in the interests of local communities, enabling them to a licensing scheme from Spring 2021. Councils will be able to designate control areas to ensure that planning permission will always be required for the change of use of whole properties for short-term lets.

The measures are being introduced following concerns about the impact on areas such as Edinburgh which is one of the most popular places for Airbnb listings. Other short-let hot spots include the Highlands and the East Neuk, where in Elie and Earlsferry, one of the worst affected areas in Scotland, only 264 out of 830 housing units permanently occupied. And it has been reported that the numbers of short-term lets are rising in St Andrews where the problem is compounded by the proliferation of second homes.

Announcing the changes, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “I believe these measures allow us to make progress in this Parliament to address a pressing issue for some of our communities but they will not unduly curtail the many benefits of short-term lets to hosts, visitors and the Scottish economy.” He continued “Short-term lets can offer people a flexible travel option and have contributed positively to Scotland’s tourism industry and local economies across the country. However, we know that in certain areas, particularly tourist hot spots, high numbers of short-term lets are causing problems and often make it harder for people to find homes to live in.”

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie sounded a note of caution, expressing concern that proposals do not go far enough for communities in North East Fife which have already been swamped by people buying up properties for use as holiday homes.

Mr Rennie said: “My constituents in communities such as Elie, Crail and other areas in the East Neuk need proper assurance that there is room for retrospective action. Many fear, quite rightly, that if this does not form part of the process, the number of short-term lets in these areas will remain far too high. It will not be satisfactory if the new system fails to cut the number of short term lets in areas that have seen their communities hollowed out by the holiday let growth”.

“North East Fife has a thriving tourism industry, with its iconic university and beautiful scenery, however, there remains a concern about the growing number of holiday lets which means that some communities have a small number of full-time residents. This has threatened the viability of community facilities and services like schools and shops. I hope that in the coming months we will see further detail about how to ensure these communities are supported to thrive.”

Housing minister Kevin Stewart said retrospective action may form part the new arrangements but made no firm commitment. “That is part of the discussions we will have with local authorities around about how we set up this regime. Obviously, we want to tackle not only future difficulties but also existing difficulties as well and I imagine we will have very proactive discussions with local authorities on that point, in terms of dealing with some of the existing difficulties that there are in certain parts of this country.”

Graeme Brown, director of homeless charity Shelter Scotland, said the “unregulated growth” of short-term lets “has led to too many people being locked out of homes that could be let privately to help tackle Scotland’s housing emergency”, while Megan Bishop from Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, hailed the announcement as a “huge step forward”.

St Andrews QV (Qui Vive) is an independent not-for-profit, non-political platform for news and debates about issues that are important to the Town. It exists to hold decision makers and public services to account while its editorial policy is to accommodate all shades of opinion from all parts of the community, prioritising evidence-based arguments. St Andrews QV is a member of the Independent Community News Network and is committed to the Community Journalism Charter

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