Persecuting short term let owners won't solve housing shortage - Sue Webber

There is no disagreement that Edinburgh is suffering from a severe shortage of accommodation of all types, from one-bedroom apartments for social rent to spacious family homes.
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the LothiansSue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians
Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians

We have also heard in the past week how the shortage of affordable short-term let (STL) accommodation for casts and crews is a significant problem for the Fringe and the other festivals.

As we get set to welcome thousands of festival goers, the hundreds of little businesses providing much-needed STLs are facing a cliff-edge, with just two months to go to comply with an SNP-Green diktat to apply to their local authorities for a licence to continue trading.

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STLs are regarded as contributors to the housing shortage, so Edinburgh Council tried to ban STLs in tenements altogether. Although this attempt to collapse the entire system was ruled unlawful by the Court of Session in June, all operators, large or small, must still apply for a licence by October 1, and there are justifiable fears Edinburgh Council will take the opportunity to impose a blanket ban by stealth

Like every politically driven SNP-Green wheeze, the new licensing regime is not designed to encourage businesses or promote tourism, but bureaucratic over-reach which means even arranging a house-swap will technically need council permission.

In their minds are heartless, Rachman-style landlords doing poor people out of a secure home, and while problems occur as they do in any sector, the vast majority of STLs are well run and the properties often represent personal investments to generate a small income or to supplement pensions, or a nest-egg for retirement.

Even by the lowest estimate Edinburgh alone needs over 30,000 new homes, so would STL abolition solve the problem? According to the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), data from analytics company AirDNA used by the Scottish Government, the pandemic slashed the number of entire properties used as Airbnbs in Edinburgh AND the Lothians to 4416 by July 2021.

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Further ASSC analysis suggests there are now less than 300 entire STL properties in Edinburgh city centre, representing 0.12 per cent of the total housing stock, and returning them to long-term lets or owner occupation would meet less than one per cent of the lowest demand estimate. And not everyone, particularly the elderly, wants a tenement flat.

It is not in anyone’s interest to shield rogue operators and the sector believes in a strong licensing regime, but it must be fair and practical, not deliberately onerous and prescriptive. Sadly, but predictably, like the botched deposit return scheme the SNP-Green Government has no desire to work with businesses to achieve reasonable outcomes.

Instead, its instinct is to dictate, hector and control, according to a political agenda against which affected business are seen as barriers.

One East Lothian woman, facing the closure of her business, last week took to social media to claim that the minister responsible, her MSP Paul McLennan, told her it was maybe time she got a job.

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If that is the level of care a Nationalist MSP can offer a constituent affected by his policies, then no wonder the sector as a whole has got nowhere in trying to work with the SNP-Green alliance to deliver a workable system.

But then that wasn’t the point. And persecuting STL owners out of existence will not solve Edinburgh’s housing shortage.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative Lothian MSP

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