Bombshell report reveals only 1 in 500 AirBnB properties in Edinburgh have planning permission

The report reveals the “staggering” levels of AirBnB properties in Edinburgh without proper planning permission.

Friday, 10th July 2020, 1:22 pm
Heat map of commercial short-term lets in Edinburgh created using crowdsourced data from Homes First survey (January – June 2020) on Tableau Public.
Heat map of commercial short-term lets in Edinburgh created using crowdsourced data from Homes First survey (January – June 2020) on Tableau Public.

Just one in nearly 500 short term property lets in Edinburgh has proper planning permission, according to a bombshell new report revealing the 'staggering pattern of unlawful activity' of holiday flat rentals across the city.

Spearheaded by Charlotte Maddix and Andy Wightman MSP, a Homes First survey launched in January has revealed that out of 477 commercial business properties identified, only one has planning consent.

The findings scale up to only 14 properties with planning consent in Edinburgh - out of the 6587 commercial short-term lets estimated by the Lothian Valuation Roll.

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Key boxes for Airbnb properties outside a tenement flat in Upper Bow, Edinburgh. Picture Ian Rutherford

A commercial short-term let is a dwelling occupied by short-term tenants, commonly there for a holiday or for work, run for profit.

The investigation used scraped data from booking.com and crowdsourced data from Edinburgh residents who recorded the commercial short-term lets they knew of in their locality, most obviously in their tenement stair. The majority of those submitted to the survey were concentrated in the Old Town, New Town and Leith.

Scraped data from the InsideAirBnB website was a useful insight to the spread of short-term lets, however it excluded the many short-term lets outside the AirBnB platform and included data of properties where owners home-shared their own home.

The survey did not collect the names of hosts or information on owners who home-share.

Government legislation, The Town and Country Planning Order 1997, Scotland, states that if a domestic property is converted to a short-term let it requires to apply for planning consent if the change of use is material.

Among people living in tenements in the city, according to the report, 45.4% of people have at least two short term lets in their stair and 21.7% have three or more - yet consistent case law and Edinburgh Council’s own planning policy refuses planning consent in shared stairs.

Andy Wightman Green MSP, for the Lothians, said that “to find that only one out of 477 has consent is a staggering pattern of unlawful activity for which no-one appears to be accountable.”

He said: “What this survey has revealed is the remarkable extent of operators footing planning policy with only one property out of the total of 477 identified having planning permission. Given the negative impacts on residents identified in many planning consent results and appeal notices, this is a significant concern that so much activity was being undertaken unlawfully in the first few months of 2020.”

The investigation has also revealed that these commercial short-term lets have benefited from 100% tax breaks through the Small Business Bonus Scheme, totalling £4.7 million.

Many of these properties also have routinely flouted title conditions prohibiting business use, raising legal questions of liability in the event of any accidents such as fire and damage to neighbouring properties.

Edinburgh’s short-term let market has received a significant economic shock over the first half of 2020 and its future remains uncertain.

Councillor Neil Gardiner, Planning Convener, said:

“We’ll always use the existing powers we have through planning enforcement to investigate cases reported to us as we are very clear that we want properties unlawfully taken out of housing supply to be returned to being people’s homes.

“This is very resource intensive though and we’re continuing to pro-actively work with the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing regime which will give us far greater control over the sector in the future.

“Our recent consultation on ‘Choices for City Plan 2030’ specifically asked people, along with many other questions, if Edinburgh should be a short-term let control zone implemented through new planning policies. We are hoping to have draft regulations from the Scottish Government on short term let control zones later in the summer and expect them to come into effect early next year.

“We would urge citizens to continue telling us of any short-term lets that are operating without planning permission and are causing harm as we will use all the powers available to us to enforce the legislation and close them down.”

The Evening News has contacted AirBnB for comment.

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