By Scott Wright

PROVIDERS of self-catering accommodation in Scotland have called for a halt to the process of bringing in new laws to regulate short-let properties, amid fears the change will heap further pressure on the beleaguered tourism industry.

The Scottish Government is currently carrying out a final consultation on new legislation to regulate short-term lets. The proposals, which include a mandatory licensing regime, follow much-publicised concerns over the impact on communities from the huge growth of Airbnb-style accommodation in cities such as Edinburgh.

However, representatives of the self-catering industry have called on ministers to hit pause on the legislative process to allow operators to recover from the challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASCC) has written to Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, warning that plans to proceed with the regulation at this time threaten to “cripple” the short-term letting industry.

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The letter, which has been signed by 38 senior Scottish tourism industry, leisure and business figures, claims that by forging ahead with the original timetable, ministers are failing to take into account the “changed reality” in Scottish tourism brought by the pandemic. It also claims the consultation has been “truncated”, in contradiction of Scottish Government best practice guidance, “at a time when many businesses are predominantly concerned with ensuring their continued survival”.

The letter states: “While minds have been focused elsewhere, the Scottish Government remain firmly set on a timetable which dictates that the secondary legislation must be laid by December 2020 in order that the regulations come into force by Spring 2021. We do not believe that a full explanation has been provided as to the rationale behind this especially as numerous Covid-19 restrictions have been placed upon affected businesses and uncertainty endures as to when these might be lifted.”

The Scottish Government began seeking views on the impact short-term lets have on people and communities in April 2019. It followed the rapid growth of Airbnb-style properties, notably in cities such as Edinburgh, which critics claim has made it difficult for local people to buy houses in their hometowns.

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The Scottish Government announced plans in January to establish a licensing scheme for short-term lets using powers under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act, and give local authorities the power to introduce short-term let control areas under powers in the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. Its second consultation, underway now, sets out a definition of short-term lets and detailed proposals to create the licensing scheme and establish control areas.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, said the sector is not opposed to platforms such as Airbnb, noting that it is used by many businesses in the tourism industry. But he said the industry is keen to see a crack down on hosts who do not operate in a responsible manner with regard to their local communities. Mr Crothall described the Scottish Government’s proposals as “ill thought out” and said they were being forced through “at a time when the industry is on its knees”.

And he added that the proposals would “bring the sector down when Government should be putting forward plans to help businesses stay alive and recover”.

Asked if there would be a cost implication to the proposed regulations, Mr Crothall replied: “It will come at a cost.”

“Nothing is free,” he added, noting that 50 per cent of respondents to a recent survey by ASSC said their business would no longer be viable if required to cover the cost of the new scheme.

Mr Crothall also observed that the ASSC letter had been signed by business groups in other sectors such as retail, who fear the proposed scheme could have a knock-on effect in local economies.

The ASSC letter has been signed by a wide range of tourism, hospitality and visitor attraction groups, as well as bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses, Confederation of British Industry, Institute of Directors, Scottish Retail Consortium and Scottish Chambers of Commerce. Airbnb is also a signatory.

Fiona Campbell, chief executive of ASSC, said: “The regulations that self-catering is facing may well inflict the kind of damage on our vital sector, key to creating the memory-making holidays Scotland is famous for, from which it will never recover. That is why our friends, peers, and colleagues from across Scottish tourism have joined with us to send this clear, unambiguous, and direct message to Mr Stewart and his ministerial colleagues – rethink this or you’ll hurt us irreversibly.

“Covid-19 has done a lot of damage to Scotland’s economy, the last thing we need is to compound it with this poorly thought out, ham-fisted, and counterproductive act of sabotage.”

Minister for Housing Kevin Stewart said: “Our proposals to regulate short-term lets will ensure these properties adhere to a common set of safety standards to protect guests and neighbours.

“This is part of our work to ensure a responsible and sustainable approach to tourism, which better balances the benefits of tourism with wider community needs and concerns.

“Local authorities will also have powers to tackle issues around noise and nuisance faced by neighbours in some areas and they will use these powers proportionately. The measures followed careful consideration of responses to our 2019 consultation and evidence provided by independent research.”