The capital’s leading civic trust has warned the local authority it faces a “major challenge” as it’s expected thousands more will follow in the coming months, ahead of the implementation of a ‘control area’ across Edinburgh and a licensing scheme.
But the council has given assurances that plans are “in place” to meet the demands of the legislation and said funding has been set aside to manage the wave of new applications.
Of the 141 lodged since the beginning of last month, 103 were retrospective change of use requests and 13 were for new short-term lets (STLs).
The vast majority – 126 – were for properties in the city centre, with many for multiple flats within the same building in high STL concentration areas such as the Royal Mile, Hill Street, Torphichen Street and Thistle Street.
Furthermore, 64 were submitted by the Edinburgh-based serviced apartment provider Destiny Scotland.
Of the 25 applications made to confirm the use of a property as a holiday rental for over 10 years, 16 were granted and one was refused.
In the same six-week period, one new STL was given planning permission by officers and another was refused, whilst two retrospective applications were granted.
It comes after councillors voted in February to make the capital Scotland’s first STL ‘control area’ in a bid to return swathes of properties currently being let out on Airbnb and other sites to the private rented sector and housing market.
A recent council report said up to 12,000 properties in the city are listed on platforms such as Airbnb, whilst analysis by the Scottish Government has estimated the overall figure for Edinburgh is around 16,000.
Under the new powers designed to crack down on STLs, waiting to be rubber-stamped by Scottish Ministers, any short-term rental property not used as a permanent residence will need planning permission for change of use.
Whilst whole residences that have been used for short-term letting for over a decade are exempt, owners are still required to submit evidence of its long-term use to obtain a certificate of lawfulness from the council.
Furthermore, STL operators across Scotland will have to apply for a license from local authorities by April 2023, and having change of use in place will be one of the key conditions.
Edinburgh-based civic trust The Cockburn Association has questioned whether the council currently has enough staff and resources to handle the ‘deluge’ of applications for existing STLs.
The Association’s director Terry Levintal said: “The feeling we get is that even though we’re aware it’s coming, that the sinking of the resourcing and the management resources required to deal with the challenge – not just through the issues we’re seeing through the planning system with the waves of retrospective change of use applications coming, but also the new licensing regime, will be opening up towards the end of this year.
“We are talking not hundreds of potential applications into the planning system and into licensing, but thousands and thousands of applications coming into it and we do not get the sense that the local authority has really recognised the step change in management resources that are required to deal with that.”
He added that as well as overwhelming the council’s planning department, volunteer-run groups such as the Cockburn Association and community councils will be unable to effectively scrutinise each individual request.
“We need perhaps a different process, a different system for processing this volume just so we can manage it and make sure that all interested voices are properly heard,” Mr Levintal said.
“If you wish to comment on a planning application, it’s one application and one set of comments and they have to be uploaded to the council’s planning portal.
“That usually works okay for the normal range of planning matters that we all experience and we all participate in, but for this level of applications they may well come into there must be a quicker and easier way of dealing with it, particularly when we’re seeing whole stair applications coming in.”
Last week David Givan, Edinburgh City Council’s chief planning officer attended a meeting of the Edinburgh Civic Forum, a network of the city’s community councils, civic groups and resident associations convened by the Cockburn Association, to discuss the rise in short-term let applications.
Mr Levintal continued: “This is going to represent a major challenge. The chief planning officer heard that openly and it was great he was in the meeting.
“But there remains a concern that the capacity to deal with this range and this number of planning applications coming forward is going to be a major civic challenge and not just for communities but for the council itself.
“There’s been some encouragement in that [the council] have been very focused on impact of residential amenity of existing communities when they’re looking at change of use applications and in many instances they’ve been refusing consents when STLs have been in common stairs.”
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson confirmed plans were in place to manage the demands of new short term lets legislation.
They said: “When members set the Council budget in February, £150,000 was ringfenced to help us establish and manage Edinburgh’s new short term let controls. We are seeing high numbers of planning applications and officers will handle these in the usual way, on a case by case basis.
“We’re currently asking residents, visitors and interested groups and organisations what they think the new licensing scheme should look like – and have met directly with the Cockburn Association to hear their views. Our online consultation is open to all and will be live until 10 June.”