Airbnb planning permission: The new plans explained... and why hosts are furious

First Homes Not Second Homes protest on the 11th of September 2021 in St Ives, Cornwall, United Kingdom. First NOT Second Homes (FNSH) launched the campaign today with an action which seeks to involve other communities across the UK to bring about a lasting and meaningful change in the housing crisis. There is no housing shortage, but there is a housing distribution crisis. The protesters live in various locations in the far Southwest of the county, and recognise that the Southwest is the worst affected area for second home ownership and its detrimental effects when they are used solely for holiday lets and through AirBnB. Much of the profit from these properties leaves the host communities and does little to support the local economy. (photo by Gav Goulder/In Pictures via Getty Images)
A protest in St Ives, Cornwall, in 2021 against widespread holiday home lets in the area. (Getty Images)

Michael Gove this week announced a potentially huge shake-up of the UK’s short-term rental system which facilitates hundreds of thousands of staycations every year.

The housing secretary has laid out a policy which, if passed into law and adopted by councils, would require property owners to obtain planning permission to convert existing homes into short-term holiday accommodation.

This comes amid concerns about people in tourist hotspots being “pushed out” of their towns because of a lack of available housing, with numerous property owners using platforms like Airbnb to let out homes.

Here, Yahoo News UK sets out the plans, why the government wants to introduce them… and why there has been a backlash from hosts.

What are the plans?

Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has proposed “introducing planning permission for an existing home to start to be used as a short-term let”. This would come in the form of a “change of use” application.

Planning permission has to be obtained from local authorities, whose planning committees take into account the merits of each application as well as any objections from neighbours.

People enjoy the weather at Derwentwater in the Lake District National Park near Keswick. Picture date: Saturday June 5, 2021. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Holiday lets are widespread in tourist hotspots such as the Lake District. (PA)

However, under the plans, property owners may also be able to let out their homes for a limited number of nights per year - either 30, 60 or 90 - without the need for planning permission.

Meanwhile, the planning controls would not be compulsory: the government said local authorities could choose not to use them.

The plans only apply to England and the government has launched a consultation which will last until 7 June.

Why does the government want to introduce planning controls on short-term rentals?

The government has acknowledged short-term rentals “are now a significant part of the UK’s visitor economy” and “provide increased choice” for visitors.

However, it can also be a profitable venture for property owners and investors in popular areas.

And this is seen as problematic for existing communities, particularly in tourist hotspots such as Cornwall and the Lake District.

The government said there are “concerns in certain areas about the increase in the numbers of short-term lets and the impact this can have on the sustainability of communities and the availability and affordability of homes for local people”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 26: Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, leaves BBC Broadcasting House after his appearance on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg on March 26, 2023 in London, England. The weekly interview show features politicians and other newsmakers in conversation with the BBC's former political editor. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Michael Gove: 'In too many communities we have seen local people pushed out... by huge numbers of short-term lets.' (Getty Images)

Gove said: “Tourism brings many benefits to our economy but in too many communities we have seen local people pushed out of cherished towns, cities and villages by huge numbers of short-term lets.”

He said families who want to buy or rent a home close to their place of work need to be “prioritised” over tourists.

By introducing a planning hoop for property owners to jump through, the government believes it can increase housing supply.

Figures reported in The Times on Friday show one in 67 coastal properties were listed on Airbnb in May last year, compared to one in 105 in 2019. Meanwhile, there are reportedly more than 16,000 rentals available in Cornwall alone… a county where there is a social housing waiting list of 15,000 families.

Why has there been a backlash from hosts?

Andy Fenner, CEO of the Short Term Accommodation Association, accused the government of using hosts as a "political football", saying a planning permission requirement “completely ignores the contribution short-term rentals make to the economy".

“It’s important this issue doesn’t become a political football when the short-term rental sector is a key reason why the UK is so attractive to international and domestic tourists. Its role in providing local employment is routinely overlooked and measures to solve housing shortages should instead be focused on building new homes in sufficient numbers.”

The government has not been hitting its target - which was set out in the 2019 Conservative manifesto - for 300,000 homes a year to be built.

Read more: ‘Holiday lets have ripped the heart out of our seaside town’

Fenner also said similar planning permission requirements introduced in Edinburgh last year have resulted in "many" property owners “forced to exit the market”.

“We need the government to get round the table and identify an alternative way forward that doesn’t do as much harm to the tourist industry and local jobs,” he added.

There has also been a backlash within the Tory party. Gove’s predecessor Simon Clarke said the plans are “anti-business”. His former cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg also said: “The attack on landlords is a misguided response to the failure to build more houses, which is the real problem.”

Airbnb, meanwhile, has said it wants to ensure any changes to the planning system “strike a balance between protecting housing and supporting everyday families who let their space to help afford their home and keep pace with rising living costs.”