Edinburgh short-term lets: Greens accuse Labour of U-turn and softening stance on controls

Row over response to Association of Scottish Self Caterers' 'mutually beneficial solution'
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Edinburgh's minority Labour administration has been accused of doing a U-turn on short-term lets and softening its stance over control of the Airbnb-style properties.

The claim came as the council's planning committee voted 6:5 to ask officials for a report on proposals by self-caterers for what Green councillors said would be "blanket approval" for all 1,300 short-term lets operating in the city before the council's control area came into effect in September 2022. 

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A letter from the Association of Scottish Self Caterers to the council proposed "a mutually beneficial solution" to the large number of pre-September 2022 applications which the council now has to look at after it lost a judicial review of the way it was implementing controls on short-term lets. 

Lord Braid found that the rules of the city-wide control area - introduced to tackle high concentrations of short-term lets - could not be applied retrospectively. As a result the council can no longer demand that all operators of whole-property short-term lets seek planning permission as part of their application for a licence, only those who began operating after the control area was introduced.

While council chiefs maintain planning permission will still be required in the vast majority of pre-September 2022 cases, the ruling means that thousands of applications must be assessed on a case-by-case basis to test if the change of use of a property has been "material".

The ASSC said in order to guard against further legal challenges, and to reduce the burden of having to consider every existing property on a case-by-case basis, the council should agree that "any property in existing use that is not subject to complaint or enforcement is not considered to be a material change of use and therefore does not require planning permission and a certificate of lawful use can be granted".

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Labour proposed asking officials to report to the next planning committee on the matters raised by the ASSC suggestion. But  Green councillor Chas Booth said: "I cannot see what the advantage is of opening the door to a blanket certificate of lawfulness for all pre-September 2022 holiday lets, all 1,300 of them. 

"This would make it much more difficult for the council to effectively regulate short-term lets.  It would mean we could not take effective control over the amenity impacts and crucially the loss of housing from short-term lets.  Labour have rightly said previously that they are extremely concerned about these implications."

SNP councillor Neil Gardiner backed the Greens. He said: "I don't think we need a report on an external party's proposal." But Tory councillor Joanna Mowat said the call for a report on the ASSC proposals was just following best practice.  "Given the history of this, I think this matter has to be considered."

And Liberal Democrat Hal Osler said she was shocked at the attitude of the Greens and the SNP.  "I'm not entirely sure what it is you're so afraid of this. I'm really quite staggered. We've been asked to have a look at something and I don't understand why that's such a problem."

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Planning convener James Dalgleish defended the request for a report. "I'm not asking for any change of policy. I'm asking for accountability, transparency, openness - that we actually have a proper discussion at committee.  The only other brief discussion that was had about this was in a closed meeting.

"Let's take a pause, we don't need always to be on our soapbox about this issue, and just take some time to scrutinise and ask questions that we need to ask. About 90 per cent of this, we agree where we're going on and I don't want to get too cut up about on that 10 per cent and let that be an issue that divides the council."

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