Airbnb set to be regulated as short-term lets amendment to Planning Bill goes through

Ben Wray

Amendment also passed giving power to councils to buy land at existing use value

AN AMENDMENT to the Planning Bill which would see all short-term lets have to apply for council planning consent has passed stage two of the Bill’s passage through parliament.

Amendment 45 was tabled by Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman, and is an attempt to regulate the enormous rise of short term lets in Scotland, especially through the use of digital holiday letting company Airbnb.

CommonSpace reported last week that Airbnb’s in Edinburgh are proportionately four times greater than in London or Paris. The rise of short-term lets have acted to reduce the number of available residential properties in the capital, as well as in rural areas like the Highlands.

The amendment would see all those who let out their property and do not use it as their main residence have to apply for permission to change the property’s legal status with planning authorities, who would then be able to make a decision based at least partly on the needs of the local community about whether it should be used for short-term lets.

READ MORE: Concentration of Edinburgh Airbnbs 4 times greater than London or Paris

It could lead to a significant reduction in the number of short-term let properties in Scotland.

Data from Inside Airbnb showed that over 5000 Scottish properties were advertised on the room-letting platform. Research from Indigo House published in August last year revealed 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.

Another amendment, also tabled by Wightman, was passed to the Planning Bill which will allow local councils to compulsory purchase land at use value for masterplanning new housing developments, rather than the value once planning permission is granted, which in urban areas can be 100 times higher. The current system, of compulsory purchase of land at what is called ‘hope value’ – the value it is anticipated to be once planning permission is granted – significantly increases land costs in the housebuilding process and incentivises land trading over housebuilding.

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

Wightman, Housing spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Lothian, said that the two amendments will help Scotland tackle its housing crisis if the Bill is backed by MSPs.

He said: “With average house prices seven and a half times the average salary we must take every opportunity we can to help people afford to buy or rent a home. Giving local councils the power to buy land at existing use value rather than the inflated value caused by planning permission is an important tool in the box.

“A classic example is the Waterfront in Edinburgh where there are swathes of vacant land that have been allocated for housing for years. Developers have been biding their time while the land value rises and the city’s housing crisis worsens. This land should be available for the council to buy at its current value so it can get on with the job of building affordable housing for ownership and rent.

“We also know that the uncontrolled and rapid rise in short-term lets in our cities and our rural communities is depriving families and individuals of badly-needed long-term homes. I am pleased that the Minister has agreed to discuss this matter further as the Bill progresses through Parliament.”

REPORT – Public Land Value Capture: A new model for housing development in Scotland

A group of Edinburgh MSPs from all the parties represented at the Scottish Parliament except SNP wrote to the housing minister, Kevin Stewart MSP, last month asking for the introduction of a Scottish Statutory Instrument which would give local authorities the power to implement a licensing system for short-term lets.

Stewart responded on 12 October that he was committed to addressing the issue but that “licensing may or may not be part of the solution”.

“We want to ensure that Scotland is able to take advantage of the opportunities of the collaborative economy, ensuring the proportionate and appropriate regulations and enforcement are in place,” he explained, adding that he wouldn’t rush any decision and had established a Short-Term Lets Delivery Group to look at the issue.

Picture courtesy of Steve Rhodes