MSPS have been warned that plans to regulate Airbnb-style short-term lets could put thousands of jobs in rural parts of Scotland at risk and wipe out more than £113m from the economy in isolated communities.
Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee has recommended that MSPs approve the Scottish Government’s plans to introduce a licensing scheme for short-term lets, including some B&Bs along with powers for local councils to set up control areas through planning rules – although ministers will be able to veto any use of the policy.
But analysis commissioned by Airbnb has claimed that if the rules are given the thumbs up, businesses in rural parts of the country could be hit hard.
The company has suggested that some rural hospitality businesses “will never re-open at all”.
The study by Biggar Economics, found that the proposed legislation would put 5,555 jobs and £113.1 million per year at risk in rural parts of Scotland.
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The study has also claimed that the thousands of predicted job losses in rural parts of Scotland could result in a 30 per cent increase in unemployment in those areas, raising the unemployment rate above the national average.
Patrick Robinson, director of public policy at Airbnb, said: “Tourism is a vital source of income for rural communities across Scotland.
“We know that once the recovery comes and it’s safe for tourism to return, people will be looking to travel nearby with loved ones, delivering a welcome boost to the rural communities who stand to benefit. In the meantime, we should be doing everything we can to help hosts and businesses prepare to reopen safely and avoid impeding them with legislation that may mean some will never reopen at all.”
Businesses in rural parts of Scotland have hit out at the plans, claiming the policy has been drawn up to solve a problem in Edinburgh, but is not suitable on a national scale.
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In Edinburgh, there are thought to be around 14,000 short-term let listings – with council officials stressing the explosion of Airbnb-style properties is pushing rents in the city up, contributing to homelessness due to homes being taken out of the market and causing nuisance and anti-social behaviour problems for residents.
Campaign group Place Edinburgh has “strongly refuted any assertion that the proliferation of short-term lets has brought economic benefits to Scotland”.
The organisation has pointed to figures by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), showing “zero increase in overnight visitor expenditure in Scotland since 2011 despite an increase of over 31,000 short-term lets on one platform alone during this time”.
Wendy Hebard, who lives in the Old Town in Edinburgh, said the soaring number of short-term lets, in the city centre, thought to now total more than the number of properties available to rent, “has seriously impacted on the many on waiting lists for rented housing or those seeking affordable housing to buy”.
She added: “It has deprived us of neighbours and subjected us to an ever-changing stream of new occupants and people servicing the properties, threatening our security and during the time of Covid, endangering our health.”
But rural businesses have echoed Airbnb’s warning that the economy could be damaged by the new rules.
Judith Bryant, who runs a B&B, has warned that “the balance between long-term sustainability of local communities and promoting tourism will be seriously damaged” by the new laws.
She added: “A large proportion of self-catering property and B&B owners in the small villages on Scotland’s west coast will simply be unable to afford the cost of a hefty license. Our businesses would become unviable.
“There is a danger of more tourists taking to camper vans to explore the Highlands with a reduction of other places to stay.
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“I think the Government has allowed issues in Scotland’s cities with Airbnb lettings to adopt a broad-brush approach to the rest of the country, which needs re-thinking.”
David Bilcliffe, who runs a self-catering business in Orkney, said he can “see this working for Edinburgh and in city centre situations but not elsewhere”, warning that “one size really does not fit all”.
He added: “If, for example, the Orkney Islands Council was to adopt this, then probably half of the self-catering businesses in Orkney, including ours will close. Why? Because there is no point in continuing as the suggested cost of licensing rubs out any earnings over cost.”
Highland Council has warned MSPs that the authority is “very unlikely in the timescales proposed” to be able to implement the new rules.
In a submission to MSPs, the authority added: “this proposed licensing scheme has a disproportionate effect on the Highlands – in relation to both the substantial number of short-term lets within the area and the geographical distance that has to be covered.
“The timescales for introducing this licensing scheme are unrealistic for both local authorities and for operators who may have to carry out extensive work to ensure premises meet the repairing standard, especially for units which previously didn’t need to.”
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart last week told MSPs that he “has had issues raised” with him about the impact of short-term lets “from many areas of the country”.
Mr Stewart pointed in a study carried out by the Scottish Government which highlighted Skye and the East Neuk of Fife “where there are obvious tensions in relation to getting the balance right between economy and community”.
He added that the rules “have given local authorities the autonomy and independence to put in place what is right for them”.