New Airbnb powers will help Edinburgh thrive – Ben Macpherson

Councils are being given the ability to control the number of short-term lets and ensure they make a contribution to local services, writes Ben Macpherson

Tuesday, 30th April 2019, 6:00 am
Tourists pour millions into tills in bars, restaurants and hotels across the city. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Thousands of SNP members, media and other guests were in Edinburgh at the weekend as the party held our spring conference.

Edinburgh is used to absorbing the many thousands of people who flock to our city for conferences, for business, for our festivals, or as tourists.

These visitors are an essential and very welcome part of our economy, pouring millions into tills in bars, restaurants and hotels across the city.

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Ben Macpherson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith

But it can’t escape anybody’s notice that the scale of our success as a tourist destination has raised some concerns.

Particularly in recent years, the use of homes as short-term accommodation on sites such as Airbnb has been booming.

The original concept of Airbnb was to allow homeowners to earn some extra income by renting out a spare room to tourists. People in Edinburgh have been doing that in August and at Hogmanay for decades.

But there’s a big difference between simply having guests in your spare room, or letting out your home for a week or two when you’re away, and turning a home into what is essentially a full-time hotel. It is the full-time use of properties for short-term letting that has been causing problems, especially for those living next to one. Or two, or three, or four.

That’s why all Edinburgh SNP politicians and the SNP-led council have been working hard on this issue, and why I was delighted that Nicola Sturgeon used our Edinburgh conference to announce that new powers will be given to councils to regulate short-term lets such as those through Airbnb.

These challenges aren’t unique to Edinburgh. Cities across the world are facing similar issues.

In Scotland, short-term lets are a successful part of our tourist offer – but the over-concentration in some areas can have a detrimental impact on the housing market, both in cities like Edinburgh or in rural tourist hotspots like Arran.

Under the Scottish Government’s plans, councils will be given the power to regulate short-term lets to ensure they’re subject to the same controls as other accommodation.

Crucially, the proposed new system would give councils the power to control the number of these lets and ensure they make a contribution to local services.

That approach could rebalance the housing market – which is essential for maintaining Edinburgh as a diverse and affordable city to live in.

Every politician knows that housing affordability is a huge issue.

That’s why this weekend the First Minister also announced a new scheme, supported by £150 million of funding, to support first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder.

For many young people, even on good salaries, the cost of a deposit is prohibitively expensive. Without support from family, buying their own home can seem out of reach.

Under this new scheme, if first-time buyers can save five per cent for a deposit then they’ll be able to borrow up to £25,000 from the Scottish Government to help buy a home – and they won’t have to pay it back until they sell.

As a constituency MSP in this growing capital city, I very much welcome these two initiatives to tackle the overuse of short-term letting and to increase the affordability of local housing.

Ben Macpherson is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith