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10/07/2020

Edinburgh: Homes First Survey Results

Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman has published another briefing paper, his sixth, on the issue of short-term lets.

  • His latest paper highlights the results of his Homes First survey – where Edinburgh residents could highlight properties they believed were operating as short-term lets – which was published to coincide with the forthcoming reopening of the tourist accommodation sector on 15th
  • Wightman provides three main definitions: commercial short-term lets which are a dwelling that is not a main residence that operate largely unregulated; serviced apartments which he deems to be legitimate businesses; traditional self-catering which is described as “useful” but could also operate in residential buildings; and homesharing in which ordinary people share their own home on platforms such as Airbnb.
  • It aims to show the extent of “unlawful” commercial short-term lets operating without planning consent in Edinburgh. On Twitter, Wightman described his paper as revealing “the epic scale of unlawful business operating across the City and the rapacious character of many of the operators.”
  • It also follows his lobbying and that of other stakeholders such as PLACE to ensure that short-term lets with communal stairwells and entrances are not allowed to reopen on the 15th but instead be pushed back until at least the end of the first emergency period of the coronavirus regulations (30th September).

Headline Figures

The report highlights the following figures:

  • 477 short-term lets submitted to survey (the majority were concentrated in the Old Town, New Town and Leith. 250 or 52.4% of the short-term lets submitted were in the Leith Walk and City Centre wards)
  • 1 out of 477 has planning permission
  • 188 or 45.4% of people surveyed have 2 or more short-term lets in their building
  • 90 or 21.7% of people surveyed have 3 or more short-term lets in their building
  • 358 out of 477 paying council tax rather than non-domestic rates
  • £4,782,338.75 lost revenue as a result of Small Business Bonus Scheme
  • 2,015 commercial short-term lets identified
  • Estimated number of commercial short-term lets is at least 6,587.

Methodology

The authors used survey data from the Homes First survey, scraped data from booking.com, Edinburgh City Council planning application and enforcement data, and data from SAA on the non-domestic rates valuation roll. The Homes First data is “crowd sourced” which invited “residents of Edinburgh and other locations to report how many commercial short-term lets they know of in their locality”.

Coronavirus Survey Update

  • In addition to the main Homes First survey on the extent of commercial short-term lets in Edinburgh, the authors provided a follow-up coronavirus survey to gauge how many short-term lets were operating during the pandemic.
  • They argue that a reduction in the number of short-term lets would have a positive impact for residents and for those that remain, there would likely be a renewed focus to ensure that they had the necessary planning regulations and be subject to licensing.

Useful Quotes

“Self-catering businesses provide a useful service to visitors and have an important role in Scotland’s economy.”

“…we have never had reliable data on where they are or how many [short-term lets] there are.”

The full report can be accessed here; the press release is available here.

Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers Chief Executive, Fiona Campbell, said:

 The ASSC strongly refutes the repeated claims made by Andy Wightman about ‘unlawful’ businesses and notes that this report suffers from a number of limitations and methodological weaknesses.”
 
“We will leave those with an obsessive grudge against Scotland’s £723million self-catering sector to continue to carp from the side-lines while we prepare for the safe and responsible reopening of tourist accommodation on July 15.

“Self-catering is well placed to resume, to use Andy Wightman’s own words, providing our ‘useful service to visitors’ and continue playing what he called, and we agree with, our ‘important role in Scotland’s economy’.
“We invite him and his colleagues to get behind us, and all Scottish tourism, in making Scotland an attractive place to visit.”
  • The ASSC commissioned legal opinion from Brodies regarding whether planning permission is required for short-term letting. Read the opinion here: Legal Opinion.

An Airbnb representative said:

“This report is based on false claims, unverified data and hearsay. The majority of hosts in Edinburgh are individuals – not commercial operators running businesses – and are good neighbours who occasionally share their homes. Different types of accommodation are subject to different rules and we remain committed to working with the Scottish government on clear and proportionate regulations that work for everyone.”

  • Hosts on Airbnb generated an estimated more than £400 million in economic activity for Edinburgh last year alone.
  • The location of listings is sourced from unverified reports to the homesfirst.scot survey which “invites residents of Edinburgh and other locations to report how many commercial short-term lets they know of in their locality, most obviously in their tenement stair.”
  • 85% of the sample on the homefirst.scot survey, as the report points out, “does not appear on Edinburgh City Council’s planning portal to see if residents had previously reported the lets to the council.”
  • The research also relies on scraped data from booking.com: “In addition to the crowdsourced data, we also data scraped booking.com apartment listings to form a separate dataset.”
  • Ewan MacLeod, Partner at Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP – who is also a member of the Law Society of Scotland’s Planning Committee – previously issued the following comment setting out the legal situation in Scotland: “Mr Wightman states that “If anyone is using a domestic property for commercial short term letting, they need planning consent today”. That is not correct.” “Planning permission is only required if there has been a material change of use. The Courts have been very clear that this is a “question of fact and degree in each case” and depends on the particular circumstances of the use of individual properties.” “That legal principle has been accepted by Planning Authorities in Scotland and Scottish Ministers in numerous applications and appeals”.

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