Airbnb challenge: Greens set out amendments to planning bill to regulate short-term lets and holiday homes

Alasdair Clark

New proposals would tackle the growth of short term lets or holiday homes by requiring council planning permission for a change in use

SCOTTISH GREEN MSPs will seek to amend upcoming Scottish Government planning legislation at Holyrood to require council planning permission before owners can turn homes into holiday homes or short term lets, in a bid to tackle the housing crisis.

Green housing spokesperson Andy Wightman MSP will lead a debate in Holyrood about the proposed change after the parliament returns from its summer break.

If passed, Wightman’s proposals would mean that changing a property from a sole or main residence to either a short-term let or a holiday home would require full planning consent.

Housing justice campaigners such as Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, have been critical of the impact short terms lets have had on Scotland’s capital in particular, arguing that the growth in the number of properties marketed for short term lets are starving the market of much needed affordable housing for Edinburgh residents and pushing residents out of the city centre.

Wightman’s proposals would allow local authorities to decide on such applications on the basis of local policy, and the changes would not affect homeowners or occupiers who only rent out a room.

Announcing his proposed changes to government legislation, Wightman said: “The uncontrolled and rapid rise in short-term lets in our cities and the long-standing problem of second homes in our rural communities is depriving families and individuals of badly-needed long-term homes, worsening Scotland’s housing crisis.

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“The Scottish Government has chosen not to bring short-term lets and holiday homes into the planning system, so I will lead the change. I want local councils to have powers to protect the availability of residential accommodation for local citizens. I welcome views on my amendments ahead of them being heard at the committee stage of the Planning Bill in September.”
Figures unearthed in June this year found that there could be up to 100,000 empty or underused homes in Scotland, but a discrepancy in how such properties are counted mean that Scottish Government metrics only identify 37,000 empty properties.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Living Rent activist Craig Paterson was supportive of the call for better regulation in the market:  “All housing in Scotland should be well regulated, to make sure it is safe, affordable, and that it’s meeting the needs of communities across the country. This must include short-term lets, otherwise we are setting ourselves up for even more chaos in the housing sector.

“Cities across Europe are already tackling the dangers of completely unregulated holiday lets like Airbnb, and Scotland must follow their example by properly regulating them. We cannot allow landlords to dodge their responsibilities – and rip vital housing supply out from the hearts of our communities – by converting homes into short-term lets in the pursuit of profit”

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Data from Inside Airbnb showed that over 5000 Scottish properties were advertised on the controversial room-letting platform. Research from Indigo House published in August last year showed that Airbnb listings in Scotland increased by 184 per cent from January 2016 to January 2017.

Research by the Scottish Greens shows that in Edinburgh alone there is 6,200 flats available for short-term let, with the owner not present in 55 per cent of cases and owned a landlord with multiple properties in one third of cases.

After the SNP lost its majority in Holyrood, the Scottish Government will seek to win support from opposition MSPs to be certain its new planning legislation is approved by Holyrood.

Speaking after Wightman announced his amendment, Scottish Labour’s planning spokesperson, Monica Lennon, said the party welcomed the opportunity to consider amendments by opposition parties and government backbenchers: “Scotland’s housing and infrastructure crisis was created by the SNP not by planners and Ministers have proven time and again they don’t know better than experts and local communities.

“Scottish Labour will shortly be publishing a package of amendments that reflect our vision for a planning system that works for the many, not the privileged and influential few.”

Picture courtesy of Pixabay