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Highland convener quizzed on homes tax legislation by Holyrood committee

By Tom Ramage

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Representatives of rural councils across the Highlands and Islands gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government, Housing & Planning Committee this week on the importance of new powers to change council tax rules on empty and second homes.

The committee is currently taking evidence on the Council Tax (Variation for Unoccupied Dwellings) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2023.

Bill Lobban, Highland Council. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Bill Lobban, Highland Council. Picture: James Mackenzie.

At this week’s meeting Bill Lobban, convener of Highland Council, was questioned along with Fergus Walker, revenues and benefits manager, Argyll and Bute Council and Gareth Waterson, corporate director of enterprise and sustainable regeneration, Orkney Islands Council.

MSPs addressed the importance of the legislation to increase income for rural councils and redress the balance between property investors and those needing an affordable home.

Highland topped the table for second homes presented to the committee, with 6,944, compared with Argyll and Bute's 4,214.

Ariane Burgess, Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands & Islands, is the convenor of the committee and welcomed the opportunity to speak to representatives from half the councils in her region on the legislation.

Commenting after the evidence session, Ms Burgess said: “We need more homes; we need to use the homes we have more effectively and we need to ensure that we create homes that provide the workers and families we need to keep local communities thriving. In Argyll & Bute and the Western Isles, 6% or more of housing is second homes. In Orkney it’s 5%.

Ariane Burgess MSP
Ariane Burgess MSP

“Of the more than 24,000 second homes in Scotland, 3,000 are in Argyll & Bute alone.

“That is why the Scottish Government was right to regulate short-term lets.

"That is why we have introduced stricter planning rules on holiday properties. And that is why we’re working with councils to bring back into use empty homes, which is why rural councils have rightly welcomed plans to increase council tax for empty and second homes.”

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