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Short-Term Letting: Letter from ASSC Member to Scottish Government from the Western Isles

Dear Mr Allan and Mr Ewing,

I am writing to you both, representing the Western Isles and the tourist industry in Scotland, to express concerns about the proposed licensing and control area proposals for short term lets. I operate a single self-catering unit on the Isle of Lewis to a very high standard and my family is significantly dependent on the income from the business, as are housekeepers we employ on the Island. The property already meets high health and safety standards similar to the proposed licencing rules and this is already a regulatory requirement for such businesses.

It is clear from press coverage and other evidence that this legislation is being pushed through to address specific issues related to Airbnbs in tenement buildings in Edinburgh and a tiny number of rural areas. This view is backed up by the opening statement in the consultation para 1.1 which refers to short term lets having become “the subject of much controversy in some parts of Scotland”. This may be true in a very few locations and some specific sub-sections of the market but responsible self-catering accommodation is an established backbone of the tourist industry across Scotland and is generally well-managed by conscientious owners and operators.

This industry is one that is critical to the Scottish economy and is currently facing significant problems due the covid-19 pandemic.  I believe this regulation will have an undesirable, unanticipated and detrimental effect on the sector and that the proposals are neither proportionate nor appropriately well thought through in terms of the likely impact.

I have completed the online consultation but it is limited to technical questions about specific aspects of the proposals. It does not allow for feedback on the proposals as a whole. In fact, the whole consultation process is being abbreviated both in terms of time scale and scope with no robust justification being given.

The additional administrative and financial burdens and the uncertainty of being able to operate will place many operators in a position where they have no option but to give up. This is bad for the economy both in terms of the tourism sector as a whole and the impact on the affected businesses and household incomes. I am sure this is not the intention of the proposed regulation.

The tourism sector is extremely important to the Scottish economy and has been heavily hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Now is not the time to embark on an inadequately thought through regime with unknown impact. No explanation has been given why these proposals are being pushed through in the middle of the pandemic when its impact is not yet fully understood and other related legislation, eg the visitor levy, has been put on hold specifically due to the pandemic.

Please can I ask that my specific points below be taken into account and the option to scrap these schemes or consider a more appropriate registration scheme be seriously considered:

  • The consultation process has been abbreviated allegedly due to Covid-19. In the light of other pieces of legislation being delayed due to Covid-19, eg the visitor levy, this reason does not justify regulation being rushed through and appropriate consultation must be allowed to take place
  • Because there is no new primary legislation, parliamentary scrutiny of this proposal will not take place. This is entirely is inappropriate for regulation significantly affecting Scotland’s strategic tourist industry, especially when it has been proposed by the housing ministry but it has a significant impact on tourism
  • Nationwide licencing and control areas are not proportionate to the immediate issue which is recognised to be local. Disproportionate regulation directly contravenes the Scottish Government’s own guidelines which say that regulation should be proportionate, consistent, accountable, transparent and targeted only where needed
  • The impact on the sector has not been assessed. No BRIA has been carried out. Pricing for the licence is not available
  • Other, more appropriate mechanisms could be used to ensure health and safety standards are in met in self-catering holiday accommodation. For example, a registration scheme
  • Other types of solutions could also be applied to the problems encountered in Edinburgh without creating nationwide uncertainly and stress for responsible operators of small self-catering businesses
  • The limited questions in the consultation process do not allow for full feedback
  • In no other case is planning permission withdrawn after a specific period. The proposal to require planning permission to be re-applied for after 10 years will create huge uncertainty for operators and it disproportionate to any perceived problem caused by short term lets
  • My self-catering regularly has bookings 2 years out – more so due to Covid-19 having forced guests to re-book. The proposals do not address the legality of advance bookings given that planning permission and licences may not be granted / renewed for reasons outside the control of the operator.

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