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Scottish Government Representatives:
Andrew Mott welcomed the attendees. He asked to go round the group and asked for their points.
Adrienne Carmichael noted the lack of data on the impact of the proposed licensing and planning controls, and the lack of appreciation of the impact of Coronovirus on the sector.
Andrew Mott replied that there was some data, scraped from Airbnb, and this was what they were using. He noted that this legislation is “detatched from Covid-19”. He said that the Scottish Government wants to see recovery, and noted that the timeline meant that they are not asking for the sector “to do anything now”.
Barry Burton noted that in point 6.34, e and f would lead to objections and refusal of licences. He asked what safeguards would be put in place to protect the sector (most specifically in Edninburgh), and the ensure that professional operators would be able to get a licence.
Andrew Mott noted that operators could continue to offer accommodation while the application is being processed, so there is “no immediate burden” (recognising that there will be a burden). He said it is seen as a longer term piece of regulation. He noted that it should be clear why people would be objecting and that this needs to be clear for both operators, residents and neighbours. This would be “something for the guidance being drafted in the spring”.
Barry also asked why the legislation is being “pushed through” as an SSI rather than benefiting from full parliamentary scrutiny.
Andrew Mott said that he was making a note of all the points made, but did not respond to this question.
Caroline Millar asked why ‘unconventional dwellings’ (yurts, static caravans, pods etc) were being excluded from the scheme if the rationale behind the licence is health and safety.
Andrew Mott noted that all present were in favour of all types of accommodation being covered.
Claire Bruce asked why the legislation was being rushed through at a very difficult time for the sector and indeed local authorities, who won’t be in a position to put this in place. Why had registration not been considered, or testing the process? There may be issues in Edinburgh, but these issues are not the same in other areas. The self-catering / STL sector provides significant economic benefits across Scotland and all destinations rely on tourists.
Andrew Mott said that he was “listening very carefully”. He said that the “majority of operators” were doing the right thing” nut they have heard “appalling stories from residents and a balance must be struck”.
David Smythe stated that he had a “raft of concerns”, having traded for over 30 years. There are very few complications in rural parts. He noted that there would be a serious burden associated with an annual fee plus an “oversight fee”, the possibility of unannounced visits, the expense of compliance, and the threat of planning revocation after ten years. He noted that no other business is subjected to this. He also noted that self-catering varies hugely across Scotland (Skye, Edinburgh, Perth & Kinross) and asked why this was not being taken into consideration.
Andrew Mott said that basic Health and Safety will be mandatory but operators should already be complying with this. He “can’t deny” that the fee will be an additional business cost. HE stated that two sets of guidance will be produced – one for hosts and platforms and another for local authorities. This will include detail about fire risk assessments and how to navigate through the compliance requirements. Andrew also cautioned against “snake oil sales persons” who may take advantage of the new legislation in order to sell products and services to the sector.
Fiona Campbell noted that professional operators already comply with H&S regulations which are specific to our sector and asked why these were not merely being communicated to the “bad hosts”. She noted that she had been operating for 18 years and complied with all compliance obligations. Having to apply for a licence would merely be another entirely unmerited financial burden.
Linda Battison noted the difference between professional and unprofessional operators. She also estimated that based on the lowest anticipated figure for an annual fee would be £18,500 across her 22 properties.
Andrew Mott asked where she got that figure from, to which Linda replied that this is based on HMO licence fees.
Linda also noted that her properties are built specifically for holiday letting and cannot be used as permanent residences and cannot therefore be returned to long-term housing stock. She noted that she is not concerned about the mandatory H&S element, as she already complies with all elements, however noted that the cost of a licence will be significant and have a detrimental impact on her business. Linda also noted that local authorities want and need tourists and asked why this legislation is being proposed as it will undeniably have a negative impact on tourism.
Jenny Linzee Gordon stated that she has been operating in Edinburgh for 18 years with no issues. She asked what the criteria would be for people to get a licence.
Andrew Mott replied that it would be up to local authorities to decide policy. He noted that this legislation is aimed at “party flats”. If operators continue to operate without a licence, they may be subject to fines of up to £50,000. He anticipates that if a person operates without a licence, “neighbours and residents would report the activity”.
Fiona Campbell noted that Edinburgh had made it very clear that it wants to close down all STLs in tenements, and this had been reiterated in a newspaper article that morning. Planning convener Neil Gardiner said “Once we get the legislation in place these properties will be returned to homes and strong neighbourhoods restored across the city.”
Rod Frazer noted that this legislation is not evidence based, but is purely associated with local politicians and winning votes. He noted that housing issues are constantly being raised to politicians and they are using the narrative of STL causing a housing shortage as leverage. Any application will go before a local councillor and will thus become a political tool. He highlighted that variations of STL businesses and demand around the country have not been addressed.
Fiona Campbell noted that STLs are not causing a housing crisis and that bad housing policy over the last 50 years have resulted in the housing crisis. STLs are being used as a scapegoat for poor housing policy. She also noted that there are five times more empty homes in Scotland than self-catering units.
Andrew Mott noted that housing is a significant issue and one of politicians’ “biggest problems”. They are “working on getting empty homes into use. He stated that there is “no agenda to pick on STLs”. He said that the legislation was targeted at “a significant minority” of bad hosts.
Rod noted that this legislation would not ameliorate the concerns regarding affordable housing.
Joanna Millar noted the legal situation with regard to the SSI. There is no intention to have a STL Act 2020. The SSI will require an amendment to the Civic Government Scotland Act 1982. She will provide a note to explain these issues. She also noted that the Scottish Government has committed to the licensing proposals and the “freight train has left the station and we just need to ensure that it stays on the tracks and that the breaks work”.
Nick Hall noted that his business already operates on a very tight margin. A licensing fee of approximately £1,000 will have a “massive impact on cash flow”.
Andrew Mott would not agree that the licence will be burdensome.
Rob Thompson noted that his self-catering operation tops up his retirement income. He did not share Andrew Mott’s optimism that licensing will “deal with the bad apples”. He noted that any professional operator relies on good reviews in order to encourage guests. He commented that membership of the ASSC was as valuable as having a licence, to illustrate a commitment to quality and compliance. He noted that the Scottish Government licensing proposals solve none of the issues that are the reason for the proposed legislation and place a disproportionate financial and administrative burden on many thousands of property owners who contribute to the wellbeing of the tourism sector of the Scottish economy. Rob suggested a delay and a more thoughtful data gathering and industry consultation process before proceeding further.
Rob McKinnon commented that operators across Scotland would become “collateral damage” for a problem in Edinburgh. He also concurred that it would not improve the housing issues, especially on the islands. This is not a social issue, but a distraction from ineffective housing policy. He is concerned that this will have a negative impact on rural self-catering capacity and will result in a subsequent loss of economic benefit that self-catering brings to local economies (via supply chain as well as restaurants and activities supported by guests). He also agreed that non-traditional accommodation should be included in any scheme. He noted that the social impact will be that this scheme will encourage vexatious intervention into business. He also highlighted that in rural areas, STLs are also used for seasonal accommodation and this could be impacted by these proposals. It is crucial to see through different lenses when looking at rural or island settings. He suggested that VisitScotland’s Quality Accreditation scheme should be used as an alternative and the burden should be reduced for “good operators”.
Doug McAdam highlighted the need for robustness in the process and what was currently missing was a proper social and economic impact assessment. This needs to be undertaken to not only identify impacts but also to ensure potential unintended consequences have been properly assessed. He noted three issues:
1) The burdens from these proposals will inevitably mean there will be a reduction in supply of self-catering properties which are a key part of our tourism product. This will then have knock on negative impacts on the supply chain and onwards into other areas of Scotland’s tourism product such as wildlife tourism, adventure and outdoor tourism, country sports and the whole host of hospitality businesses that rely on guests from self-catering properties for their business. Ultimately this means significant impact on remote rural local economies in communities that are already very fragile, made worse by Covid-19.
2) These proposals, with their restrictions on use of private property, will undoubtedly interfere with the “personal enjoyment” of one’s property, infringing on individual’s Property Rights under European Human Rights Law. People have a right under UN law – Protocol 1, Article 1 which protects a person’s right to enjoy your property peacefully. This includes a defence against unreasonable restrictions being placed on use of property. While government can interfere in this way with property rights it must be proportionate and clearly justified in the public interest and their is a legal test to be met. Have these proposals been assessed by Scottish Government’s legal advisors for compliance with ECHR law in this area?
3) The SSI approach, which avoids scrutiny in Parliament is inappropriate.
Doug noted that by using a statutory instrument is an easy way to say they “are fixing” the problems of minority urban antisocial behaviour and also the rural “problem” of too many holiday homes in our rural communities where young folk can’t afford a house. Fixing affordable housing need has to be done through investment and via planning and housing allocation for a percentage of new builds that have to be affordable. This is achieved through a proper process of Local Development Plans. Restricting self-catering will not produce more affordable housing, more likely properties being removed from self-catering due to the burden of these new regulations will just be sold on the open market and will end up as second homes. Doug considers a delay to these discussions while the sector recovers from Covid-19 is essential and this would allow time for a proper diligent impact analysis and consultation to be undertaken.
Rod Frazer reiterated that the whole concept needs to be revisited. The proposals are designed for flats, not rural properties. He reiterated the question surrounding why non-conventional dwellings are to be excluded. If it does not apply to caravans, who potentially pose considerably more risk, it clearly is not intended to address H&S issues. This legislation does not solve the problem of affordable housing. He asked why the proposals put forward by the ASSC, which would solve the issues, had not been considered. It will be expensive, burdensome and negatively impact tourism. In short, it does not solve any of the policy intentions.
Andrew Mott was asked if a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment would be undertaken. All proposals which may have an impact, imposing additional costs on relevant businesses, should be accompanied by a BRIA. Consultation documents should be accompanied by partial BRIAs, which are designed to encourage comment by those the proposals affect. It was noted that there has been no BRIA associated with either the 2019 consultation, or this one.
As the meeting progressed, it became more and more apparent that whatever we said will simply not be listened to. At one point, Fiona Campbell asked “what is the point (of replying to this Consultation)?”.
It was also mentioned that the only recourse the industry has left open to oppose the scheme is to approach MSPs.
The overall message from the meeting to the Scottish Government is that the proposals are clearly neither fair nor proportionate, which goes against the Minister’s words of introduction. The refusal of Andrew Mott to accept the universal view of the meeting that the scheme would be burdensome to the industry (never mind local authorities) illustrates this.
The group concurred that the proposals require proper scrutiny, and that they require a social and economic impact assessment. They also need to be proven to be complying with European Convention on Human Rights.