A Conservative MSP accused of “sabotaging” regulation on short-term lettings has met twice with an Airbnb lobbyist to discuss her plans, according to Scotland’s lobbying register.
Critics have said that rising use of Airbnb is pushing up rents in parts of Scotland popular with tourists such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Loch Lomondside and the Isle of Skye.
Neighbours of Airbnb lets have also said their guests can be noisy, anti-social and it can be intimidating having strangers in their building all the time.
Green MSP Andy Wightman aimed to combat some of these effects through an amendment to the planning bill going through parliament. This would require planning permission for anyone turning a home into a commercial let.
But Tory tourism spokesperson, Rachael Hamilton MSP, has said she plans to table a rival amendment which would mean people would only need planning permission to change a home to a commercial let in certain areas rather than the whole of Scotland.
Hamilton said her amendment would give councils control over how they deal with the issue. “Somewhere like Edinburgh can tackle problems head-on where they see fit,” she said, “while more rural areas where there isn’t that pressure can continue going about their business.”
Wightman, however, argued that Hamilton’s amendment was worse than the status quo. He accused the Scottish Tories and the Scottish Government – which he said was supporting the amendment – of bowing to industry lobbying.
The Ferret has previously revealed that Airbnb lobbyists wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and finance secretary Derek Mackay arguing against a “one size fits all” approach to regulation. “Regulation should be bespoke to Edinburgh,” the lobbyist said to Sturgeon.
Now new data from the Scottish Parliament’s lobbying register shows that Airbnb’s policy officer, Marie Lorimer, met twice with Hamilton and Conservative housing spokesperson, Graham Simpson MSP, to discuss the amendment – once in December 2018 and once in February 2019. Lorimer also discussed the planning bill with Simpson in August 2018.
The Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood in Edinburgh.
In November 2018, Lorimer also met with Scottish business minister, Jamie Hepburn MSP, to discuss “regulation of the collaborative economy – including tourism and short-term rentals”.
Airbnb also employs a specialist Edinburgh-based agency called Halogen Communications to lobby on their behalf. According to one of their clients listed on their website, Halogen’s “contacts are excellent”.
Halogen’s partners are John Crawford, a former Scottish Conservative chief of staff, and Raymond Robertson, a former chair of the Scottish Conservative Party who once worked as a teacher at Dumbarton Academy.
The firm also employs Alan Grant, who worked in the Scottish Conservative press office during the 2015 election and John Wadell, who was an assistant to Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie MSP, until June 2018.
Since April 2018 Halogen’s lobbyists have met MSPs, ministers and special advisers 13 times on Airbnb’s behalf. The meetings included discussions of the planning bill with Graham Simpson, Tory deputy leader, Jackson Carlaw MSP, Labour MSP Anas Sarwar and Andy Wightman.
A Ferret freedom of information request has also revealed Halogen lobbyists have been present at meetings between Edinburgh councillors and Airbnb.