HOUSING CRISIS: Short term lets control zone recommended for approval for whole of Badenoch and Strathspey
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The introduction of a short-term let control zone in Badenoch and Strathspey will help give young people the chance of their own local home, it is being claimed.
Highland councillors are being asked to back the controversial move opposed by many operators in the tourism industry – including giants AirBnB and the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers – when they meet tomorrow at Inverness headquarters.
The strath would become only the second part of Scotland – after Edinburgh – to back using the planning system as a way to try to control the number of accommodation lets.
If established, nearly all properties used for secondary letting across the whole of the strath will be required to obtain planning approval to continue to be used as short-term lets (STL).
But sector leaders and let property owners have warned the move 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.
They have said there is nothing to stop the STLs becoming second homes which are not affected, and have said if a control zone must be created then the rules should not be applied retrospectively.
Highland Council convener Bill Lobban lives in Aviemore and said he knows only too well the impact the surge in STLs is having on local people.
Councillor Lobban, who first mooted the initiative last Autumn, told the Strathy yesterday: "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.
"The introduction of a short term let control area will help redress the balance between tourist accommodation and permanent housing for the people who live and work here.
"I have listened to all the, mostly spurious, arguments that this will see the demise of our tourist business or the even more ludicrous claims that STLs will just become holiday homes.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. What it will help do is increase the housing supply and whilst it is not the complete answer to our housing woes it has to be part of the mix."
Council officials are recommending that councillors agree to apply to Scottish Ministers to designate the strath as a short-term let control area. No dates are given for its introduction.
A total of 332 responses were received during a public consultation ran by the council from the end of January to March 7, earlier this year.
Some 52 per cent were from private individuals, 44 per cent from short-term let operators and management companies and the remainder were from local businesses, business organisations, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and from local community councils.
Matthew Hilton, council planning officer, 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."
A high number of objectors are concerned that no specific economic impact assessment has been carried out and the lack of detail in the plan has been criticised.
One of the main objectors is the Aviemore-based Cairngorms Business Partnership.
Its chief executive Mark Tate said: "We fully understand the need to ensure that homes that are built and funded to be affordable remain affordable and available to people who want to live in, work in and care for the national park in perpetuity.
"Mechanisms already exist to allow for that.
"We do have concerns that, as it is currently proposed, the control zone proposal could have a damaging impact on our economy at a time when it is already very fragile.
"According to data from the Steem Trend Report for Badenoch and Strathspey the self-catering sector directly contributes £94m to our economy every year, provides 1,666 full time equivalent jobs and accounts for two million visitor days per year, people who spend money in our communities.
"We believe that this well intentioned proposal could have significant unintended consequences for our economy. It could lead to more properties being unoccupied, and therefore economically inactive, more of the time.
"We urge the council to undertake a full evidence based economic impact assessment before considering the proposals further and certainly rule out any retrospective use of the powers it would create."
The recently introduced legislation surrounding STL control areas requires all properties used for secondary letting to either obtain planning approval or if they have been used for a period of more than 10 years as a STL to obtain a Certificate of Lawfulness.
However, council officers have said in their report there is leeway for the authority 'to develop a policy which would support existing properties utilised for secondary letting'.
Mr Hilton states: "Whilst not removing the need to obtain planning approval, this could give existing operators some certainty in terms of the planning application outcome."
The STL control area for the strath is limited to the control of secondary letting only and does not cover second homes which accounts for about 10 per cent of all homes in Badenoch and Strathspey
Mr Hilton said that such initiatives could be rolled-out in other parts of the region if it proves to be successful.
He states in the paper: "It is clear that there is interest from across the Council area in the work being undertaken for Badenoch and Strathspey. It is important that this initial control area is progressed, the policy to support it is developed and the process implemented and assessed to inform the consideration of any further roll out."
Read about the arguments being made in favour and against the STL control zone in tomorrow's Strathy.