DOZENS of tourism and business organisations have formally called on the SNP to drop plans to regulate Airbnb-style short-term lets amid accusations the industry is being used as a “scapegoat” for “monumental, era-defining, mistakes” on housing.

Tomorrow, MSPs will vote on plans to require short-term let operators and some B&B owners to obtain a licence from their local council or face hefty fines of up to £50,000.

The proposals will also give local authorities the ability to establish short-term let control zones through planning rules, despite ministers being able to veto any use of the power.

But 38 industry bodies, including the Association of Scottish Self-Caterers (ASSC), the Federation of Small Businesses, NFU Scotland, the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and the UK B&B Association have penned a letter to Housing Minister Kevin Stewart, calling for the plans to be scrapped.

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In the letter, seen by The Herald, the coalition has claimed the new legislation, due to be rolled out from April 1, is “ill-timed and inopportune during the pandemic” and has been designed as a “blunt tool to fix a perceived and localised problem of amateur operators in urban areas like Edinburgh”.

The letter also criticises the SNP for targeting B&Bs which were originally told they would be excluded from the legislation in the original consultation document.

The coalition has also highlighted that “the regulations will be burdensome financially and from a resourcing perspective for local councils”, after Edinburgh City Council told MSPs that the new legislation “will require significant additional resources” to administer and enforce.

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The letter adds: “Given the importance of these measures to lives and livelihoods throughout Scotland, we need to get the regulations right at the first opportunity and not rely on revisiting the rules once implemented.

“We would therefore respectfully recommend that the regulations are withdrawn by the Scottish Government. Instead, it is our sincere hope that government will work constructively with affected stakeholders in the next parliament to devise balanced, proportionate and world-leading regulations that will support the sustainable recovery of Scottish tourism.

“Proceeding with regulations that are not fit for purpose will merely compound the many difficulties faced by struggling businesses the length and breadth of this country. Let’s work together to get the details right for the benefit of everyone – business, visitors and local communities.”

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Council officials in Edinburgh have told MSPs that “there are approximately 14,000 properties registered for short term let in the city” amid concerns the rose of Airbnb-style properties is contributing to a housing crisis.

But Fiona Campbell, the chief executive of the ASSC, has claimed this is not the case – instead insisting that less than 6,000 homes in the capital have actually been impacted, pointing to “ghost listings” on Airbnb and shared rooms.

Ms Campbell has added that the number in Edinburgh drops to less than 3,000 when whittled down to properties let more than 140 nights a year and become an official business – insisting that the problems have been exaggerated to cover for what she claims are failures in housing policy.

She said: “It is far easier to make a scapegoat out of an industry than it is to look back on the past decades of housing policy and conclude that monumental, era-defining, mistakes have been made in planning and execution.

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“To blame short-term rentals is easy, simple, and can be morphed into a moral crusade for people to get irate and indignant about. A good, hard, honest look at housing policy is difficult.

“We at the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, Scotland’s only trade body representing the traditional short-term rental sector, have an interest in being represented accurately and for all the issues that effect our sector to be handled sensibly and with vision. The scapegoating in the name of finding an easy answer that we’ve encountered is as far removed from this as could be.”

But council leaders in the capital have disputed the claims.

Housing convener Kate Campbell said: “The growth in holiday lets in popular cities has had a direct impact on the availability and affordability of homes for people who live in those cities.

"Edinburgh has one of the highest concentrations of holiday lets of any city in the world.

"The council has consistently made a robust case to the Scottish Government for legislation to properly control both the concentration and management of holiday lets. We look forward to the Scottish Parliament vote on Wednesday on the new measures.”

Mr Stewart has written to MSPs, stressing that “the only aspect of our proposals that applies to all short-term lets across Scotland relates to basic safety”, adding that councils can “local authorities have wide discretion over other features, such as whether to set any additional conditions, what fees to charge and how long licences last”.

He said: “The Scottish Government has been supporting the tourism and hospitality sector through the pandemic in every way possible, given the limits of devolved power.

“Regulation of short-term lets has an important role to play in supporting a strong recovery of responsible and sustainable tourism in Scotland.”

HeraldScotland: Housing Minister Kevin StewartHousing Minister Kevin Stewart

Mr Stewart added: “I have been very clear throughout that we will monitor and evaluate the impact of our proposals to ensure that they are effective and targeted. I have also set out that we are willing to legislate in the next Parliament if we need to make changes.

“However, I believe it is right we are taking action now to ensure that all short-term lets across Scotland adhere to a common set of safety standards.

"Our proposals will allow local authorities and communities facing the most severe pressures to take action to manage those more effectively. The proposals will not unduly curtail the many benefits of short-term lets to hosts, visitors and the Scottish economy.”