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DAVID RICHARDSON: Deadline approaching for let applications – with a clear need for business support

By David Richardson

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David Richardson, FSB Highlands and Islands regional development manager.
David Richardson, FSB Highlands and Islands regional development manager.

If you own a relevant business (self-catering, Airbnb etc) and haven’t already done so, you must submit your Short-term Lets License (STL) application to Highland Council before October 1. Operating without one thereafter will become an offence, and assuming tone can do nothing and get away with operating under the radar would appear to be a strategy best avoided!

The assumption in local and national government circles seems to be that many properties that don’t apply will be sold, depressing prices and becoming “affordable” for locals. And we certainly need more affordable accommodation given 59 per cent of Highland employers responding to an FSB survey said they were short-staffed last year, partly for this reason. However, many wise heads say STL will ony make things worse, by being snapped up as second homes, which generally bring far less money into communities.

The Highlands has a visitor-based economy, and many of the inns, restaurants, shops and so on that serve locals year-round only exist because visitors spend there in the summer – and what about the tradespeople that maintain them? And many of these visitors – the majority in some parts – stay in STL properties. So, while STL owners can choose whether to continue, the cumulative impact on local employment, economies and communities if many don’t could be significant. With only eight weeks to go to the deadline, Highland Council had received only 2466 (25 per cent) of the 10,000 STL applications it originally anticipated. Where are the rest?

FSB Scotland has written to the housing minister, Paul McLennan, asking for his support in encouraging councils to take a pragmatic and proportionate approach to implementation and to assist with compliance in early stages. Highland Council appears amenable, but it should do more locally.

First, it should widely advertise the imminent deadline; second, provide an emergency helpline Highland operators and others overwhelmed by STL can call; and third, come up with a contingency plan should sizeable numbers miss the deadline.

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