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The Conflation between Planning and Licensing

By far the biggest obstacle to the successful implementation of short-term let licensing is onerous dual licensing and planning permission requirements. The conflation of planning and licensing is the root cause of the vast majority of current industry/operator concerns, not just in Edinburgh, but across Scotland.

Putting to one side the grey area of whether planning permission was ‘always required’ for short-term lets (historically, self-catering was rarely deemed a material change of use, far less enforced), we are now in an age of STL licensing. The practical impact of a dual STL licensing/planning process is ongoing distrust and damaged confidence in the whole STL licensing regime.

There is no good reason to confuse STL licensing with the continued assessment of planning permission when the majority of issues that may have occasionally been considerations of the planning department in the past (excessive number of guests, amenity impacts, etc.) can all be considered and controlled as part of the newly introduced licensing legislation. Not to mention the significant non-refundable costs involved and the potential for further legal / compensation claims.

A few practical examples of issues faced across Scotland:

·       Why if I comply with all licence obligations, do I need planning permission for a 4-week let for a flat outside a planning control area in Glasgow? 

·       Why if I come up from London to Edinburgh for 4 weeks am I struggling to find accommodation because anyone who previously offered this to me now needs ‘planning permission’ to stay in a flat for a few weeks? 

·       Why if I am an operator in Highlands am I today still confused if I need planning permission for a house as an STL that I have been operating for several years?

·       Why if I am in South Ayrshire trying to run a self-catering management and cleaning business, am I still uncertain, 9 months into the licencing scheme, if I will have a business next year due to planning concerns that even the local authorities don’t have the answers to?

·       Why if I am ‘home letting’ am I receiving enforcement notices telling me I need planning permission to let out my own home while away on business?

Planning permission can still be used as a mechanism to limit the number of STLs to address housing concerns. Targeted (data driven) Planning Control Areas can be used prospectively to limit new STLs where necessary. Any ‘amenity’ concerns can be dealt with directly by licence holders. This approach would significantly simplify licensing, reduce the planning burden on local authorities (who are already resource-strained) and eliminate some of the current distrust in the current STL licensing process.

This can all be achieved through a small but important change to the licensing order. Detailed proposals have been put forward by the ASS,  supported by legal advice from one of Scotland’s leading planning lawyers, but so far ignored by the Housing Minister.

Consideration also needs to be made of a mechanism for ‘grandfathering’ existing STLs for planning purposes, potentially through a new use class order. If STL is now considered a material change of use, a new use class order is required. 

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