The leader of Edinburgh City Council has said he would “not have chosen” to give short-term lets (STL) in the city key business support grants if he had a choice.
Adam McVey was responding to concerns raised by Green councillors who said they were ‘dismayed’ to learn about the provision of business support grants for short-term lets including Airbnbs.
He said the council were forced to abide by the guidance set out by the Scottish Government which determines which businesses receives grants.
Short-term lets are only eligible for business grants if they are a business and their owner’s main source of income, meaning second homes rented out as an Airbnb are not eligible.
It is understood the council has not seen a high number of STLs apply for support during the coronavirus outbreak, however evidence shows hundreds of former STLs have been put on the long-term rental market since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
Andy Wightman, the Green MSP for the Lothians, said support worth more than £13m could be given to STLs in the capital.
The Greens’ co-leader, Cllr Alex Staniforth said: “In Edinburgh we know first hand the damage the unfettered growth of the STL market can cause. My City Centre colleague Claire Miller has been working very hard on this issue as, obviously, the city centre is most affected by a business that takes homes away from residents by converting them into party flats for visitors.
“So it was with some dismay that I learned that the Scottish government decided STLs would have access to the small business grant fund. Now more than ever it should be clear that the government shouldn’t be putting money aside so property owners can keep potential homes empty.
“However it does present us with an opportunity. I know our council would like to do more to tackle STLs.
“If the government can work with councils and with Andy Wightman’s team in parliament we can use the information learned from grant applications to find those STLs that do not have planning permission and to return them to the long term housing market where they belong.
“Let’s come out of this crisis not with a business-as-usual city centre seeing more and more residents unable to find a home there but instead with a rejuvenated city centre which looks once again to being a thriving, unique city centre community.”
The council indicated that it would look into the possibility of using data gained through business grant applications for planning enforcement and encouraged people to report potential unlawful holiday lets.
Council leader Adam McVey hit back at his own party’s decision to extend support to STLs in Scotland, saying he would have preferred for the support to have gone elsewhere.
Cllr McVey said: “Businesses across the City are in urgent need of support and we are helping to provide access to advice, emergency funding and rates relief.
“The Scottish Government guidance sets who is eligible for a business grant and we have no way of deviating from this guidance. We would not have chosen to give support to short term lets in the city.
“We have successfully concluded many cases of planning enforcement throughout the City when short term lets have operated without permission and will continue to do so.
“If anyone is aware of a property being used as a short-term let when it shouldn’t be, they should report this to us so that we can investigate.
“I would encourage anyone running a residential property as a short-term without permission to put the property back into the residential market. This would help improve access to homes for our citizens who need it.”
Green MSP Andy Wightman added that more than £13m could be given to STLs in the Capital if they all applied for grants and business rates relief.
He said: “The vast majority of Edinburgh’s commercial short-term lets are operating unlawfully as they don’t have planning consent. On that basis I was never in favour of them receiving business grants.
“Across Edinburgh, 1322 operators are already eligible for 100% rates relief from rates totalling around £4.6 million. This relief is paid for by the general taxpayer. If all operators were to receive the Business Grants this would amount to an additional £13.2 million.
“Much of this will go to people who are mere property speculators rather than genuine businesses and some to landlords in other countries including tax havens. We will be scrutinising very carefully who applies and who receives these grants."