Kirsty McLuckie: constructive thinking is key to housing crisis

Image: Lisa Ferguson
Image: Lisa Ferguson

The move should bring short-term letting into line with private rental sector requirements, but the Scottish Government has also given local authorities the power to create Short-term Let Control Areas.

So far, only the City of Edinburgh Council has taken up the offer, which means that any holiday let in the city now has to apply for a change in planning permission to operate.

There is outrage from many owners about this – one opining: “It is as if Edinburgh Council want us all to go out of business!”

It was declared as hyperbole, but one wonders if that is exactly the reasoning.

The Short Term Accommodation Association (STAA), which campaigns for the rights of operators in the sector, believes it is being made a scapegoat for the shortcomings of local and government planning.

Their research shows a pipeline of more than 370,000 homes across Scotland remains unbuilt.

Housing land audits published by all Scottish planning authorities show that there are 371,6121 homes waiting to be built nationally, and the STAA believes that blaming holiday lets for the shortfall seeks to distract voters from the real problem.

It also points to the 112,000 homes in Scotland that are currently vacant.

Andy Fenner, STAA chief executive, says: “We’ve long believed that a move against the holiday let industry is a move against tourism itself.

“The relatively high-profile short-term rental sector is a convenient scapegoat for the wider failings that continue to contribute to the housing crisis. The demand is there, the planning permissions are there, but – for some reason – new housing stock just isn’t coming forward fast enough.

“Politicians need to address the reasons why and do something about the huge numbers of empty second homes that plague our communities, rather than blaming holiday let owners who bring colossal sums of money into local economies and create jobs.”

He has a point, and whatever the intended consequences of the new legislation – declared or otherwise – there will be unintended consequences too.

Objectors are right to be concerned about the future of the tourism industry, especially in Edinburgh around festival time.

Elsewhere, even the licensing process seems ill-prepared for the deadline and anything but user-friendly. A neighbour in my rural village has a bothy that she lets to holidaymakers – her application was submitted in February, and the local council here is still mulling it over.

Other, wealthier owners, faced with the expense and hassle of obtaining a licence, have decided to leave their second home empty when they aren’t using it themselves. If that happens on any wider scale, it spells disaster for local restaurants and other tourism-reliant businesses here too.

Perhaps over time such changes will release properties on to the sales and long-term letting markets to service the demand.

But, reforming the planning system, and building enough properties for all – buyers, renters, holidaymakers and investors – would be a better solution.

​- Kirsty McLuckie is property editor at The Scotsman