Crackdown on short-term lets won’t make more affordable housing, Argyll tourism chiefs say

The legislation was drawn up due to concerns from residents in popular tourist destinations such as Skye that the rapid growth of short-term holiday lets was pushing up rent levels for other properties.

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Planned licenses for Airbnb-style lets won’t create more affordable housing, a group of Argyll tourism businesses has claimed, after a mass resignation from the Scottish Government’s ‘sham’ advisory panel.

The legislation, which has been plagued by setbacks, was drawn up following concerns from residents in popular tourist destinations such as Skye and Edinburgh that the rapid growth of short-term holiday lets was pushing up rent levels for other properties. Research in 2019 found holiday lets accounted for nearly 20 per cent of all homes on Skye.

The proposed laws would let councils establish designated areas where planning permission is needed before properties can be rented out. However earlier this year Scottish ministers withdrew their plans ahead of the election because ‘they were widely recognised as not being fit for purpose’, claimed the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), part of a stakeholder Working Group on Short-Term Lets which the government set up to guide to the legislation and consider any changes.

Last week several of Scotland’s leading tourism organisations resigned from the group, claiming it failed to fulfil its remit and was not fit for purpose. Representatives of the ASSC, Airbnb, the Scottish B&B Association, and the UK Short Term Accommodation Association, all quit the group en masse, citing its inability to address the industry’s concerns. The government was also accused of deliberately ‘shifting the goalposts’ on its policy intentions, and ‘acting with disregard towards the sector’, the ASSC added.

They also accused the government of acting with ‘cavalier disregard and indifference’ towards the sector’s concerns, and of ignoring their proposals for ‘a more workable, proportionate and cost-effective mandatory programme of registration’. ‘Nearly half of self-catering operators are expected to leave the sector should the plans come into force, thereby jeopardising the recovery of Scottish tourism from the pandemic,’ the ASSC said.

‘All the organisations involved in the walk-out have been responsible, willing, and positive parties to the discussions, providing key industry insight and evidence-based analysis, but have been met with obtuse responses and a reluctance to engage, the latest of which represents the final straw for the industry.’

The ASSC’s chief executive, Fiona Campbell, said: ‘Despite our best efforts, and those of our colleagues across Scottish tourism, this working group has been revealed as nothing but a sham and therefore we have decided to leave it. Throughout the entire process, while we have acted in good faith, this government has continually shifted the goalposts and acted with cavalier disregard and indifference towards our sincere concerns and innovative ideas.’

Chairman of the Bed & Breakfast Association, David Weston, added: ‘Leaving the working group is not a decision that my colleagues and I have taken lightly but there seems little point in remaining. We have been frustrated at every turn and it will be Scottish B&Bs that suffer if we continue to take part in what has become nothing but a charade. It has been made abundantly clear that neither the working group nor the Scottish Government are interested in that type of dialogue.’

On Scotland’s West Coast, the Argyll & Isles Tourism Co-operative (AITC) expressed another criticism, arguing the plans won’t ease the shortage of affordable housing.

‘One of the proposed benefits of any suggested legislation is to level the playing field in terms of affordable housing availability,’ said AITC chairman Iain Jurgensen, managing director of Portavadie Loch Fyne. ‘AITC’s position is that legislation alone will certainly not achieve this.’

‘The AITC has a range of opinions on short-term lets proposals due to the diversity of their membership. They highlight that this is a very complex subject that does require review, more thought is required, and we would encourage further discussion and continued dialogue. AITC will continue to feed in its members views, concerns, suggestions and insights to the Scottish Tourism Alliance.’

The Scottish Government said it was disappointed at the move, and thanked the departing groups for their contribution. A third and final public consultation on the proposed legislation runs until Friday, August 13.