By Bill Heaney

Now that the schools are back – that’s if the new concrete crisis does not lead to them being shut down again – some people may be thinking that an autumn holiday night be just the thing to wipe away the memories of our rotten summer.
However, there were warnings in the Scottish Parliament this week that there may be fewer holiday homes on offer on short-term lets because the operators are circumspect about becoming caught up in the net of new legislation which will apply to people who let their premises – or part of them – to folk for an annual holiday or just a weekend away.

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green), Tory Murdo Fraser and SNP Minister Paul McLennan.

Tory  Murdo Fraser asked what percentage of short-term let operators have applied to be licensed in advance of the deadline for applications under the licensing scheme of 1 October.

The SNP Minister for Housing,  Paul McLennan,  replied: “The short-term let sector has grown significantly during the past decade and has changed in nature, bringing economic benefits but also causing concerns about consistency of quality and the impact on local communities.

“All existing hosts have had 20 months in which to apply, and they must apply before 1 October in order to be able to continue trading.”

“According to local authorities’ public registers, 6,323 applications had been received as of 31 August and just over half of applicants had been issued with a licence, with none—none—having been refused.

Murdo Fraser replied: “Operators of self-catering properties are rallying outside this Parliament today to highlight their concerns about the unintended consequences of the legislation.

“The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers estimates that almost two thirds of those currently operating could give up their businesses as a result of the legislation, which would have a devastating impact on our tourism sector. What will the financial cost of  the jobs that will be lost as a result of this policy?”

Paul McLennan told him: “I have been negotiating and working with the sector for a number of months. I met with the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers on my first day as a minister; indeed, I have done so three times since March. I have also spoken to the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland, which is the licensing body for local authorities.

“Costs will vary depending on the size of the building and on what providers need to do, but a business and regulatory impact assessment suggested that costs will average between £250 and £450. That will vary, depending on the size of the property and the details required.”

Murdo Fraser was far from content with the Minister’s answer and neither was LibDem Willie Rennie who represents north east Fife and St Andrews, where there are regular lets to golfers, especially around the time of The Open.

He told MSPs: “There was no answer there about the number of jobs that might be lost or the cost to the economy. The legislation affects not only stand-alone self-catering units in city centres; it affects traditional bed and breakfasts, guest houses, home shares, house swaps and farm cottages, many of which have been operating successfully for years and provide an excellent service to visitors with no negative issues, but now face substantial additional bureaucracy and cost.”

Paul McLennan hit back: “This Government listened to the sector, which is why there was a six-month delay. Any legislation must be balanced and licensing is always about safeguarding the quality and consistency of a sector.

“There were three public consultations before the Scottish Parliament passed the legislation in January 2022. The sector has brought economic benefits, but the consultation also raised concerns about the consistency of quality and the impact on neighbourhoods. The licensing scheme addresses those concerns.”

He added: “Operators have had just under two years—two years—to ensure that they comply with the licensing conditions and I stress that they should already have been doing that under existing legislation. They have also had a year in which to prepare and submit their applications. The fact is that no one—no one—from among the thousands who have already applied has yet been refused a licence.

“I have spoken to businesses and councils, and the messages I have heard are different from those being shared here today. What I have heard is that it is straightforward to apply for and obtain a licence and that councils are working with applicants when the information given is incomplete.

“The responsible and balanced course of action is for everyone to encourage and support existing short-term let operators to apply for licences before the 1 October deadline. The key thing is that they have to apply before 1 October.

“The local authority then has 12 months to look at the application and give the operator their licence. Licence applications have to be granted by licensing authorities unless there are good reasons to refuse them.”

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green) said: “As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I know the benefits that the holiday industry can bring to what are often fragile rural economies, but I also see the negative impacts of poorly-managed, high-turnover properties on many of the same communities. Will the new regulation  offer reassurance to communities that are facing those negative impacts?”

Paul McLennan replied: “This summer, I undertook a tour round lots of local authorities, and that same question was raised. I know from exchanges that we have had in recent years across all parties that members have heard from constituents who have been negatively affected by the significant growth of short-term lets and are worried about the inconsistency of quality and the impact on local communities. Independent research that was undertaken in 2019 identified those impacts in more detail and we acted, after public consultation, to regulate short-term lets in order to address the matter.

“Licensing offers reassurance, providing protection and benefits for all—businesses, guests, neighbours and communities right across Scotland. It puts in place a formal framework with conditions that responsible businesses should already be functioning within.”

Scottish holiday hot spots with lots of places to let include Loch Lomond, Oban and Helensburgh (above).

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