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Highland Council to set up short-term let licensing schemes

By Niall Harkiss

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Local authorities across Scotland must now create a licensing scheme to ensure that all short-term let properties are safe and the people providing them are suitable, under new legislation approved by the Scottish Government.

Highland Council will be required to establish a short-term lets licensing scheme by October 1, 2022, and existing hosts and operators will have until April 1, 2023 to apply for a licence.

The legislation was developed in response to concerns raised by residents and communities about the impact of short-term let properties on their local communities, including noise, antisocial behaviour and the impact on the supply of housing in some areas.

Councillor for Badenoch and Strathspey, Bill Lobban said: "This is great news for local people searching for a home. Highland Council will now have to legally introduce a licencing scheme which when added to a Short Term Lets Control Zone will bring changes to the housing market in Badenoch & Strathspey. It also highlights the short sightedness of some councillors who voted against these proposals."

Housing secretary Shona Robison said: “This legislation is a significant milestone on our path to bringing in an effective system of regulating short-term lets.

“Our licensing scheme will allow local authorities and communities to take action to manage issues more effectively, without unduly curtailing the many benefits of short-term lets to hosts, visitors and the economy.

“We have already introduced legislation allowing councils to establish short-term let control areas and manage numbers of short-term lets. This is the next step to delivering a licensing scheme that will ensure short-term lets are safe and that allowing them to continue to make a positive impact on Scotland’s tourism industry and local economies while meeting the needs of local communities.

“This legislation covers the whole of Scotland, including island and rural communities, and offers flexibility to local authorities in how it is implemented based on local needs and concerns.

“We appreciate the input from tourism bodies, local government, community organisations, residents and others in reaching this point.”

Under the new legisation, all short-term let properties will require a licence by July 2024. Licensing fees will be set by local authorities to cover their costs in establishing and administering the scheme.

The Scottish Government has already committed to working with local authorities to review levels of short-term let activity in hotspot areas in summer 2023 in an attempt to assess how the actions are working and whether any further measures are required.

But Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) has raised strong concerns that the draft licensing order had been shaped with mainly urban businesses in mind.

Scottish Land & Estates policy adviser, Simon Ovenden, said: “We’re extremely disappointed that these proposals have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, albeit with some welcome opposition that recognised the damage that this legislation will have on rural businesses.

“While we understand the need for action in some localised situations, we have constantly warned of the dangers of a one size fits all approach. This urban-focused licensing order being imposed on rural Scotland, with evidence suggesting that the excessive bureaucracy and spiraling costs could now lead to many businesses closing with a knock-on impact to the local communities they serve.

“This is particularly disappointing given the significant difficulty rural businesses have faced during the last two years.”

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said: “The ASSC have always sought a collaborative approach to short-term let regulation. While disappointed that we were not able to persuade SNP and Scottish Green MSPs, we are very grateful for the support of Scottish Conservative, Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dem MSPs who voted against short-term let licensing to protect our sector, as well as the shrewd and informed interventions from former Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP who backed Scottish tourism by speaking out against these 'arbitrary, irrational, and draconian' regulations.

“The ASSC maintain that the Licensing Order remains unfit for purpose, lacks an evidence base and was more often than not based on groundless fears, anecdote and hearsay. The self-catering sector has been used as a convenient scapegoat for wider policy failures by government, especially on housing. In contrast, our proposal for a mandatory registration scheme with health and safety provisions had cross-industry and cross-party support and would have provided a robust and legally effective regulatory regime.

“The Scottish Government have confirmed there will be a review of licensing in summer 2023 in so-called ‘hotspot areas’, and while the precise details of this remain unclear, we will be putting forward our views and insight to help protect self-catering and mitigate the worst effects of this damaging legislation.”

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