Dear Cabinet Secretary,
I am contacting you to raise concern at the correspondence the Scottish Government will have received in recent days about the reopening of tourist accommodation, including short-term lets in tenemental properties, from July 15th 2020. This correspondence, from Andy Wightman MSP and an organisation called PLACE, which purports to represent residents’ views, has also received some local media coverage. The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC) wish to set out a few comments in response.
As you know, the ASSC welcomed the decision by the Scottish Government to reopen self-contained self-catering properties on 3rd July. As a sector, we have worked tirelessly in terms of our preparations for reopening – including the production and distribution of robust cleaning protocols – after what has been a challenging time for the tourism industry as a whole.
Subject to continuing to suppress the virus, it is the intention of the Scottish Government to reopen all remaining forms of tourist accommodation on 15th July. The Regulations and Guidance make it abundantly clear that any self-catering accommodation opening before this date must be accessible without entering or moving across communal areas. Other forms of tourist accommodation, which are only accessible through communal stairs and passages, should not reopen until 15th July. We supported this differentiation between accommodation types but look forward to seeing more colleagues within the Scottish tourism sector getting back to business and welcoming visitors back to our magnificent country.
While maintaining their concern is public safety, both PLACE and Andy Wightman MSP, in their respective letters of 5th and 6th July, make reference to legal and planning issues, and claim that most short-term lets operating in shared stairs are “operating unlawfully” and are “unlawful businesses”. As a body representing professional operators, we obviously refute such assertions. Our most immediate priority is ensuring a safe and responsible reopening of our sector, as opposed to engaging in such debates, but would highlight a Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre briefing which made the following salient point:
It is for the relevant planning authority to determine whether, on a case by case basis, whether the use of a flat or house for short term letting constitutes a material change of use requiring planning permission. However, it is generally accepted that use for short term holiday lets (where no additional services are provided to the tenants) is a residential use and does not constitute a material change that would require the grant of planning permission.
The default current position is clear; in general, the use for short-term letting is a residential use, therefore not constituting a material change of use.
Furthermore, in his letter, Mr Wightman is seeking an extension to the prohibition of the reopening of short-term lets in communal stairs until 30th September which is the end of the first emergency period. If this does not occur, he calls for the Regulations to be amended to only allow those short-term lets with “planning consent for change of use OR are in possession of confirmation from the planning authority that no such consent is required”.
We do not believe that planning issues are a matter for the emergency Coronavirus Regulations and this is an instance of using the Coronavirus crisis to promote a longstanding agenda against the short-term letting sector.
What is of most importance is public health. We believe that the current Regulations and Guidance are entirely appropriate and will keep operators, guests, and everyone else involved safe as the COVID-19 restrictions are eased. We would encourage the Scottish Government to continue to take an evidence-led approach to the issue of sectoral reopening and be guided by the science in terms of public health considerations.
Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers