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Council agrees measures to control short term lets as a control area for Badenoch and Strathspey will be referred to Scottish Ministers for a decision while at the same time a licensing regime will be introduced by October for all AirBnB-style tourist lets in the region


By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council Headquarters on Glenurquhart Road, Inverness.
Highland Council Headquarters on Glenurquhart Road, Inverness.

In Brief:

  • Two policies to deal with the spread of short-term lets
  • Scottish Government legislation means that all short-term lets will need a licence
  • There are issues surrounding its implementation on October 1
  • The second applies only to Badenoch and Strathspey
  • That is a plan to use planning law to deal with short-term lets
  • Both were agreed and now move to the next stage despite both being controversial

Two major and highly controversial policies concerned with the impact and control of short term lets (STL) have been given the go-ahead at Highland Council.

The tourist industry is in uproar over the plans that could see AirBnB style rentals seriously limited – something they claim will not tackle housing problems as hoped.

The Highlands is perhaps one of the worst affected areas in the country when it comes to limited housing with tourist lets seen as a major contributor.

Mandatory short-term let licensing

The first policy concerned Scottish Government legislation to licence all short term lets, which has been agreed earlier this year and will take effect on October 1.

It was noted that the timescales for the introduction of the legislation – just three months to go – are extremely tight and potentially problematic.

It is feared that not enough staff can be taken on by the start date and that could lead to major backlogs of applications.

Two departments, at least, would be affected – those concerned with issuing licences and also environmental health, which must check the properties are up to standard.

Control area for short term lets

The second policy concerns introducing a short term let control area in Badenoch and Strathspey was agreed and will now go to Scottish Ministers for a final decision.

If agreed by ministers in Edinburgh – the only other place in Scotland with a control area – owners will need planning permission for a change of use to rent it visitors.

The plan has proved divisive with many in the industry, including AirBnB and the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, strongly against the plan

The plan was originally brought forward by the Convener and Strath Councillor Bill Lobban amid fears that local people, specifically young locals could not find property to settle down or if they could it was unaffordable.

Speaking for the proposal, he argued that the housing situation in the area was not in decline but in "meltdown" and that it is now "almost impossible" for locals "young or old" to buy homes.

He also countered an argument that more homes need to be built saying by citeing examples of one-bedroom flats that are being "bought off plan" and immediately turned into holiday lets.

That view was made underlined in the papers, which stated STLs were “unduly restricting housing supply for full time residents and increasing local house prices, all to the detriment of our local communities.”

Divisions

Tourist agencies opposed the move saying it is likely to do little to tackle the chronic shortage of affordable homes locally and could lead to the strath's fragile economy taking a huge hit.

But speaking before the meeting, Cllr Lobban is confident the move will help provide more affordable housing locally. He lives in Aviemore and said he knows only too well the impact the surge in STLs is having on local people.

He said: "The housing situation in the strath is in complete meltdown and it's now practically impossible for young people to get on the housing ladder.

"Prices, which were already very high, have risen exponentially and that means that local people, in our predominately low wage economy, have been priced out of the market."

A total of 332 responses were received during a public consultation ran by the council earlier this year.

The results were almost evenly split according to Matthew Hilton, council planning officer, who states in his report to councillors: "Given the near 50/50 split between local residents and STL operators and management companies who responded to the consultation, it is unsurprising that the results are equally split at 45 per cent each way as to whether the council should establish a STL control area for Badenoch and Strathspey.

"The remaining nine per cent were unsure at the time of completing the survey."


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