‘Disaster’ for rural Highland economy if new short-term let rules approved

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The economy of rural areas like Lochaber and the wider Highlands could be facing disastrous consequences as a result of proposed Scottish Government regulations for short-term let accommodation.

According to Gavin Mowat, Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) policy adviser (rural communities) all short-term let operators could be asked to pay a licence fee of potentially £1,000 every year, plus an annual ‘monitoring fee’ and possibly further planning fees.

The new regulations are currently under consideration by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee.

Devised to tackle anti-social behaviour and lack of available housing in primarily urban areas such as Edinburgh, if accepted by the committee, the regulations would have unintended consequences for self-caterers, B&Bs, and small businesses throughout Lochaber and the rest of rural Scotland, where SLE says the same issues rarely exist.

With the tourism sector in the grip of economic crisis caused by the pandemic, SLE is urging committee members to vote against proposals it believes will put jobs and livelihoods at risk.

Mr Mowat said: ‘Under these proposals huts, glamping pods, wooden lodges and yurts essential to Scotland’s rural economy will face unnecessary and costly regulations. When the government consulted on the regulations for short-term lets, these accommodations were far from the forefront of policy makers’ concerns. Licencing for this type of rural accommodation is completely disproportionate.

‘If, and when cash flows return to normal, rural businesses from self-catering cottages to yurt or glamping pod operators will have to plan for a future in which operating costs increase without any real benefit.

‘Forcing unwelcome and unnecessary regulations on small rural businesses, the lifeblood of our communities, will not solve problems with anti-social behaviour or lack of residential housing in Edinburgh.’

In his submission to the Local Government and Communities Committee, Councillor Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig), criticised the proposed legislation as being ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Councillor Allan Henderson. NO-F40-Allan-Henderson
Councillor Allan Henderson.

On the question of whether the proposed changes strike the correct balance between protecting the long-term sustainability of local communities and promoting tourism and strong local economies, Mr Henderson responded: ‘The answer is, not at present. This legislation is a one size fits all – the Highlands do not fit in to that category.

‘Long-term sustainability of local communities in the Highlands requires the flexibility of the B&B system which is well policed and controlled by the 24/7 nature of the business, Environmental Health inspections and quality requirements of partner advertising portals.

‘While I understand the city problem, it should only be the control area part of the legislation that is carried forward at this time, allowing local solutions.’

Mr Henderson also said the government had failed to define short-terms lets in a clear and correct way  and worries Highland Council would struggle to cope.

And Mr Henderson’s concerns were echoed by David Richardson, Highlands and Islands development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The Federation of Small Business (FSB)’s Highlands & Islands Development Manager, David Richardson, who welcomed the news of the extra support. NO F24 David Richardson - FSB - 1 (2)
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)’s Highlands and Islands Development Manager, David Richardson.
NO F24 David Richardson – FSB – 1 (2)

He told the Lochaber Times this week: ‘Calls for regulation have been mounting, limited consultation has taken place, rapid decisions have been made in the midst of the worst crisis that this country has faced since the Second World War, and now we have a nationwide scheme, which, at the time of writing, is still awaiting final approval.

‘Quite simply, while FSB Scotland supports appropriate regulations for short-term lets, we believe that the Scottish Government is using a sledgehammer to crack nuts.’