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ASSC Submits Written Evidence to Local Government Housing Planning Committee

The  ASSC has submitted written evidence to Local Government Housing Planning Committee.

The ASSC is thankful for the opportunity to provide our perspective on the impact of the proposed six-month delay on short-term let licensing applications for existing operators and how far this goes toward meeting our concerns. We thank the Committee for its commitment to give further scrutiny to this topic. This evidence sets out our outstanding concerns not only on short-term let licensing but on planning policy.

We welcomed the recent announcement by the Scottish Government on the six-month licensing extension, as set out the Cabinet Secretary for Housing’s letter (7 December 2022) to the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government, Housing and Planning (LGHP) Committee. We further appreciate the Deputy First Minister’s announcement of the establishment of a Joint Regulatory Taskforce with COSLA, local authorities, business stakeholders, and regulatory agencies to consider the differing impacts of regulation on business, anticipating that the Taskforce will prioritise short-term let licensing as one of the first regulations to review in the New Year.

The delay has been warmly received by our membership as it provides much needed reprieve during challenging times for business. However, real and pressing concerns still remain about short-term let licensing and we hope that we can work in partnership with the Scottish Government and local authorities to resolve these for the benefit of Scotland’s tourism sector. The ASSC also believes that the delay provides an opportunity to take stock, assess the impacts related to the regulations, and then work constructively to ameliorate the outstanding issues. We provide a number of recommendations which we hope will be given consideration by policymakers.

Many councils have now published their finalised licensing schemes. From our analysis of Scotland’s 32 local councils, we have concerns in relation to:

  • The various discrepancies seen across local authority areas, including on fees, layout plans etc;
  • Council licensing policies which are ultra vires in nature; and
  • Instances where planning considerations going too far.

More broadly, we have reservations regarding barriers to investment, new operators having to wait to open until a licence is granted, problems associated with bookings, insurance and front-loaded investment amongst other things.

The Cabinet Secretary for Housing Shona Robison has insisted that licensing “will not be onerous for those who provide short-term lets.” However, those working in the industry would contend otherwise, as this paper makes clear.

Nonetheless, the ASSC welcomes the Scottish Government’s correspondence with local authorities on 15th December 2022 to seek engagement to ensure that remaining implementation challenges are addressed: “We understand that local authorities have worked quickly to launch the scheme in time for October and there may now be opportunity to refine guidance and local authority policies, taking into account feedback gathered in the early months since the launch.”

We now need to work together to ensure that the regulatory framework functions effectively for all stakeholders involved in Scotland’s vital tourism industry.

Executive Summary

  • The ASSC has operated for 44 years with 1,700 members across Scotland.
  • Despite the 6-month licence postponement very real concerns remain about short-term let licensing’s viability.
  • Licensing has produced an array of council-by-council discrepancies and inconsistencies in the application and interpretation of the new law.
  • In some authorities planning is duplicating what should be a licensing role, retrospectively refusing operators with no history of complaint precluding the ability to apply for a licence.
  • The current approach is fostering barriers to investment with new operators having to wait to open until a licence is granted and problems associated with bookings, insurance and front-loaded investment.
  • Bookings are currently down. Operators are not opting to participate due to uncertainty.
  • 87% have yet to apply for a licence despite the timeline for implementation.
  • 89% concerned about the cost of doing business.
  • Licence costs vary hugely across Scotland with CEC charging a multiple of the average and well in excess of the BRIA estimated cost.
  • There is no consistency in the length of the licence with CEC setting it at one year. This makes it extraordinarily expensive to maintain operations and forward plan beyond a maximum of a 12-month booking calendar at the point of renewal.
  • Councils have variously exceeded the legal power given in law to create additional ‘perverse and unreasonable’ clauses.
  • Rebuttal presumption has emerged as a major problem for the bulk of operators across both planning and licensing regimes, creating further uncertainty.
  • New entrants to short-stay provision are significantly disadvantaged by the current licensing regimes, reducing competition.
  • The law makes for either a PRT or an STL licence. This inflexibility fails to account for many exceptions which do not fit with either scenario.
  • Councils are likely to struggle to meet the demand in a timely manner for licences or planning consent when operators do decide to apply.

Read the full paper: Evidence to LGHP Committee January 2023.

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