Today sees the close of a Scottish government consultation on what has become one of the most conspicuous pressure points – the sharp growth in short term lets.
Landlords and those who rely on short-term lets have been fighting a fierce defensive action to ensure the consultation does not lead to “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”.
That’s the fear of Fiona Campbell, who leads Scotland’s short term letting association. For her, ownership of a small number of homes for holiday lets is a legitimate small business, deserving of respect like any other. These lets are not run as merely a hobby or some extra income for the already well-off.
And the economic impact is substantial. AirBnB, by no coincidence, recently issued figures for 2018 that showed owners of Scottish properties who let through the website took £162m from doing so.
They assume every visitor to such a property goes out and spends £100 per day on food, drink, entertainment and visitor attractions, so the value spirals up to nearly £500m. A number like that is not one that ministers, in responding to the consultation, can simply ignore.
Fiona Campbell pushes back at each of the claims being made by those pushing for tighter regulation on STLs.
On claims that it’s taking away scarce housing from local people, she counters that councils and central government should have been building or allowing more social housing. Some 79,000 homes are reckoned to be lying empty – though not necessarily in the locations visitors might want to rent, let alone homeless people.
On claims that whole tenement blocks have been changed for the worse, Fiona, says complaints are there but the numbers are low, the data isn’t clear, and policy should not be set until it is.
Edinburgh council wants a licensing regime. That’s because the planning route to reform has been closed off, for now at least.
Any hopes from campaigners that a much tougher regime on planning controls could be introduced to tackle STLs were dashed in the complex voting frenzy at Holyrood that saw amendments decided on what is now the Planning Act 2019.
The Greens’ Andy Whiteman pushed for a change that would require anyone running such a business to have the property recognised as such within planning law.
It was defeated in favour of an amendment backed by Conservatives that allows councils to impose a licensing regime, but only in housing pressure spots. For that, the more detailed legislation had already been put in place, to deal with high rental costs.
So if not planning, registration seems the least that can be expected, and possibly licensing. That’s until technology brings along the next disruptive website.
“The horse has bolted,” says Fiona Campbell. “Now, we need to train the horse.”