Andy Wightman: Short-term let sabotage from the Tories – with SNP’s help
The Planning Bill is back in Parliament for three days of debate before a final vote on whether to make it law. It has been a mammoth piece of legislation and taken 18 months to get to this stage.
What has been achieved? Not a great deal in my opinion. There have been some useful reforms at the edges but at its heart, Scotland’s planning system remains complex, difficult to engage with and dominated by powerful vested financial interests.
MSPs have tabled amendments that would radically improve how the planning system works, introducing much needed reforms in appeal rights, plan preparation and environmental protections.
Since December 2017, we’ve heard countless stories of how the current system systematically overrides the needs and wishes of communities in favour of large-scale developer interests.
The Scottish Government are fully aware of these problems but, despite the odd pleasantries from ministers, communities have been left bitterly disappointed with empty promises.
Here in Edinburgh, of course, we have an acute issue with the widespread proliferation of whole properties being converted to short-term lets. Many readers will be aware that this has been a focus of my work in Parliament for some time.
The Planning Bill has provided an opportunity to tackle this. Currently, all commercial short-term lets require planning consent if the change of use is, in planning terms, material. This is assessed by reference to the intensity and frequency of visitors.
But this is almost impossible to keep track of, so I proposed a straightforward amendment requiring full planning consent when a property ceased to be a home for anyone and was converted to a short-term. This means that councils can respond with plans and policies that best fit how they wish to control this form of letting.
I know from conversations that I have had with planning officials and constituents in Lothian, and indeed throughout Scotland, that this reform would be very welcome.
Unfortunately, it has been sabotaged by an amendment by Borders-based Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton, who, with the connivance of the SNP Government, has lodged an amendment restricting my modest reform to “short-term let control areas” which, in my view would be worse than even the status quo.
The short-term let industry ran a sustained campaign of misinformation and downright lies about the impact of my amendment. It frightened folk letting out a room in their home into believing that I was intent on shutting down their enterprises. It is deeply disappointing that I have been unable to secure improvements in the planning system for those affected by the blight of short-term lets.
Whilst SNP and Conservative MSPs may be pleased with themselves this week, I will continue to fight to defend the interests of residents in every way I can.
Andy Wightman is a Lothian Green MSP.