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Government action to curb the growth of short-term lets across Scotland will deal another massive blow to tourist areas like the Islands and Highlands, says the Scottish Land & Estates group.

Pursuing a new licensing regime for short-term lets in the midst of the pandemic has the potential to cause further serious damage to the rural economy, they say.

The rural business organisation said it was perplexed by the Scottish Government announcement that it was pressing ahead with a licensing regime.

 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 problem 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.

 “After a truncated consultation process in the middle of a pandemic, it is extremely disappointing to see the Scottish Government push ahead with these regulations without taking into account the difficulties we and other organisations have raised.

 “The total financial impact of Covid-19 restrictions to the self-catering sector alone is over £265m since September 2020.

“Tourism businesses across rural Scotland have struggled all year and many of them simply do not have the resources or reserves to survive over the winter. Now is not the time to be saddling them with unnecessary burdens.

 “SLE members, like so many others across Scotland, have been hit by unprecedented levels of income loss due to the COVID-19 restrictions. The government’s foremost priority should be to help these vital local businesses ride out and recover from difficulties rather than imposing nationwide regulation that is largely only relevant to tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh. This is primarily an urban issue but one where rural voices are not being listened to.

The Scottish Government earlier said that existing hosts of short-term lets will now have until April 2023 to apply for a licence under new plans for regulation.  

A report into the consultation on the proposals, which received more than 1,000 responses, was published this week, and secondary legislation will be laid at the Scottish Parliament later this month.

If approved by Parliament, the licensing scheme will come into force on 1 April 2021.  But local authorities will have until 1 April 2022 to establish a scheme in their area and open it to receive applications, with existing hosts having until 1 April 2023 to apply.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “I am pleased to publish this report on short-term lets, which marks an important milestone in our work to strike the right balance between the needs of local communities, and the wider economic and tourism interests.

“Residents have expressed concern about the impact of short-term lets in their communities, including noise, nuisance, anti-social behaviour and a loss of residential housing stock.  Our proposals to regulate short-term lets will ensure these properties adhere to a common set of safety standards to protect guests and neighbours.  Many responsible hosts will already be following these safety standards – our proposals will help to ensure that all comply.

“However, we have also listened closely to the representations made by business and tourism stakeholders.  We are acutely aware of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on this sector right now.  A large number of comments in the consultation centred on whether to proceed with regulation at this time or to delay it.  We have amended our proposals to ensure that existing hosts have more than two years to prepare.

“Our proposals support work towards a strong recovery of responsible and sustainable tourism in Scotland.”

In January 2020, the Government announced plans to establish a licensing scheme for short-term lets using powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, and to give local authorities the ability to introduce short-term let control areas under powers in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019.

In September 2020, they launched the 2020 consultation which set out a definition of short-term lets and detailed proposals on the licensing scheme and control areas.  The purpose of this consultation was to help the Scottish Government ensure that the legislation is as efficient and effective as possible.

They received more than 1,000 responses to this consultation by the time it closed on 16 October 2020.  They published the 2020 consultation report on Thursday 10 December 2020.  The report sets out how we have listened to the many and various views expressed and refined and improved our proposals as a result. These are:

  • to establish a licencing for short-term lets, using powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, with a mandatory safety component which will apply to all short-term lets across Scotland
  • to prioritise work to give local authorities the power to introduce short-term let control areas under powers in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019; and
  • to undertake a review of the tax treatment of short-term lets, to ensure they make an appropriate contribution to the communities they operate in.