New regulations being proposed for short-term let housing could have a devastating impact on Scotland’s rural communities, most of whom are already under severe pressure dealing with the wide-scale impacts of Covid-19, says Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the organsiation representing rural businesses and landowners.

In its response to the Scottish Government consultation on a licensing scheme for short-term lets, SLE said that they have major concerns that these proposals have been shaped with mainly urban ‘hot spot’ areas in mind, areas particularly affected by the mushrooming growth of 'Air BnB' style lets, not taking into account the important role short-term lets play throughout rural Scotland by providing housing for communities and workers, as well as bringing in vital tourism.

Gavin Mowat, Policy Advisor (Rural Communities), said: “We absolutely agree that the safety of people using short-term lets is paramount and communities shouldn’t be forced apart by a lack of adequate long-term housing.

“We are, however, concerned that these proposals don’t target the problems areas, and instead will be applied nationwide, even in areas where short-term lets are essential for the local economy and provide much-needed tourism accommodation.

“The wording of this consultation suggests that it has been written primarily to tackle the pressures that some short-term holiday accommodation cause in specific areas, most notably in city centres or popular rural destinations. Worryingly however, the proposals go much further and will impact anyone who offers short-term let housing, regardless of whether it is used as a holiday destination or not.

“A number of rural businesses take on seasonal and short-term workers for roles which may only last a short number of weeks or months. Providing accommodation is key to filling these roles, but if these new regulations are to be introduced then that could be put at risk.

“This consultation couldn’t have come at a worse time for businesses throughout rural Scotland. The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated Scotland’s tourism industry, and at a time when we want to see the Scottish Government support this vital sector, these proposals are instead creating additional bureaucracy and stress throughout the industry.

“These regulations will not only impact short-term let providers but will also affect other local businesses, such as pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops and tourist attractions, who rely on local tourists visiting their area of rural Scotland. The wider-scale impact of such changes must be understood before any new regulations are brought into force and we do not feel adequate time has been set aside to properly do that.”

lans to charge those involved in short-term holiday lets as much as £1000 per property to take part in a national licencing scheme have alarmed Outer Hebrides Tourism leaders. 

Prior to lockdown, the Scottish Government responded to pressure in Edinburgh and some other areas including Skye for rules to regulate short-term holiday lets.

While many of their other plans remain on the back burner due to COVID-19 (including the so-called 'tourist tax'), they are pushing ahead with their scheme, and have published an outline scheme in their consultation paper.

Earlier, Outer Hebrides Tourism said the Short Term Lets Licensing Scheme Planning document is worded in a reassuring way, but has the potential to have a dramatic impact on self-catering businesses.

With all the various extra regulations involved, it could easily costs over £1000 per property each year. These extra costs come at a time when businesses are least able to incur them given the impact of the COVID lockdown, which took away half the season, and the recent return of movement restrictions.
 
The scheme requires the local authorities to establish a licensing scheme (similar to pub licensing).  The local authority has wide discretion to design the scheme, what businesses will need to do to get a licence, and how many businesses will receive a licence.  This could include requiring meet and greet for every guest, limiting arrival and departure times/days, inspection visits and providing data to the local authority.
 
In addition, the local authority can also require all new and existing self-catering properties to apply for planning approval, under a change of use clause.  There are no guarantees that existing properties would receive such permission, and even if they did, the permission would only be valid for 10 years, and would then need to be renewed, with no guarantee that renewal would be granted.
 
Given that the Scottish Parliament has already given approval to a scheme, this will not be put to a parliamentary vote, so MSPs are not going to have the chance to scrutinise this scheme.  
 
The consultation period closed yesterday (Friday 16th October.)