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'Let us be' – tourism and business leaders hit out as they claim Scottish Government plans for licensing on self-catering and bed and breakfast short-term rentals will be disastrous for the Highland economy

By Alasdair Fraser

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Bed and Breakfast sign
Bed and Breakfast sign

Tourism and business leaders are warning of “catastrophic” consequences for the Highland economy if the Scottish Government imposes licensing on short-term let accommodation.

One said the move came at the worst possible time for the self-catering and bed and breakfast sector, with many owners already “teetering on the edge” because of the pandemic.

Others claimed the proposed new legislation was a reaction to loss of housing stock in Edinburgh and would be disastrous for the rural Highlands.

Four organisations last week quit the short-term lets stakeholder working group advising Holyrood ministers, labelling it a “sham” and accusing the SNP administration of ignoring their representations.

There has been concern within government that a boom in Airbnb-style lets is contributing to Scotland’s housing crisis, stoking anti-social behaviour within residential areas and compromising health and safety.

The Association of Scottish Self-Caterers (ASSC), which left the group along with the Scottish B&B Association, Airbnb and the UK Short Term Accommodation Association, claims there is no evidence of that.

Airbnb has around 32,000 listings in Scotland. Within that, the ASSC says many are duplicated six or seven times over. Many others, from treehouses and tractors, to caravans and pods, are clearly unsuitable for housing stock.

They fear that “one-size-fits-all” legislation would cost operators £1000 every three years.

The ASSC understands that every property, including existing traditional bed and breakfast and self-catering outlets, would also have to secure and renew planning consent every three years.

First mooted in January 2020, the Scottish Government dropped the planned legislation in February this year.

Tourism and business leaders say the revived proposals are worse.

Close to a quarter of all of Scotland’s self-catering units, more than 4000, are in the Highlands. An ASSC survey of members suggested almost half of those premises could close under licensing.

Les Robinson, the Highland area director for ASSC, runs Gael Holidays, a marketing and booking agency serving around 120 self-catering clients in Inverness and beyond.

He said: “We see continual comments that the self-catering industry is not regulated, but that’s not true. We have just as many perfectly reasonable hoops to jump through on safety.

Les Robinson.
Les Robinson.

“Licensing just isn’t viable. In the rural Highlands, for those renting out properties, it is often not their main income stream, but helps support them.

“These costs may well put them over the edge. Closures would also impact people employed for changeovers, cleaning and safety checks.

“It could be catastrophic to the Highland rural economy in general.”

Jo de Sylva.
Jo de Sylva.

Jo de Sylva, chairwoman of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, said: “It is a hard enough landscape at the moment for local businesses without adding another layer of bureaucracy.

“A lot of businesses are teetering on the edge. They simply cannot afford the cost, time and paperwork involved.”

David Richardson, Highlands and Islands development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “FSB Scotland believes that this is the wrong legislation at entirely the wrong time.

“It is being driven by circumstances in a few hotspots like Edinburgh’s Old Town, but a massive one-size-fits-all net is now being cast over all of Scotland, no matter what the local conditions are.

“The Scottish Government is using a massive sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

David Richardson.
David Richardson.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government considers regulation of short-term lets to be vital in balancing the needs and concerns of residents and communities with wider economic and tourism interests.

“We have been clear since January 2020 that regulation of short-term lets would include a licensing scheme.

“The focus of the working group has always been on refining and implementing that plan.”

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