Edinburgh festivals: Plans to make it cheaper, easier to let flats, rooms during festivals rejected by city council

Edinburgh councillors said the plans came as a ‘direct result of lobbying by the Festival Fringe’

Plans to make it cheaper and easier for Edinburgh residents to let out their home or spare room during this year’s festivals have been rejected by councillors.

Council chiefs suggested trialling the relaxation of some “unreasonably onerous” conditions for temporary short-term let (STL) licenses and reducing the application fee by over 50 per cent in response to concerns about the cost and availability of accommodation in the capital this summer. However, councillors said the proposal was based on “one-sided anecdotal evidence” and came as a “direct result of lobbying by the Festival Fringe”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While agreeing to introduce a shorter, simplified form for those applying to the ‘temporary exemption’ scheme in a bid to make the process less cumbersome, councillors voted against proceeding with the trial at Monday’s regulatory committee.

Hosts of short-term let properties, such as Airbnb and guest houses, were required to apply for a licence by October 1 last year. Picture: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty ImagesHosts of short-term let properties, such as Airbnb and guest houses, were required to apply for a licence by October 1 last year. Picture: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images
Hosts of short-term let properties, such as Airbnb and guest houses, were required to apply for a licence by October 1 last year. Picture: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images

Convener Neil Ross said any changes should only follow an upcoming consultation on STL licensing. “This is the appropriate way to go about reviewing licensing policy,” he said, “it gives everyone involved the chance to have a say.”

Any of the city’s residents interested in letting out all or part of their property for six weeks or less throughout the year can apply for a temporary exemption from the requirement to obtain a full licence.

Applications to the scheme – of which there have been around 200 so far this year – are not subject to public consultation, meaning they cannot be objected to. However, home owners must still adhere to standard conditions imposed on full STL license holders, such as requirements for gas and electrical safety checks.

Regulatory services manager Andrew Mitchell said concerns had been “repeatedly” raised by organisations which help organise the festivals, primarily the Fringe Society, about the “volume of accommodation available for this coming year and the cost at which it is available”.

In a bid to address these, officials suggested reducing the application fee for temporary exemptions from £250 to £120 for a trial period over summer and removing what they called “unreasonably onerous” conditions. These included conditions to get electrical inspections every five years, test appliances and label them, keep records to show furniture meets safety standards, and assess and manage the risk of legionella.

The proposed changes would only apply to those seeking to let out a spare room, known as home sharing, and those letting out their entire home while they vacated it, known as ‘home letting’.

Peter Watton, the council’s director of sustainable development, said the trial would “allow time for us to assess what happens over this year’s festival to prepare for the committed review which is later this year”. He said what was being put forward was “quite harmless” and an attempt to address a “short-term issue”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: “The Fringe have been in the papers with comments about the biggest and best festival ever and secondly about the lack of suitable accommodation. What we’re trying to do is make it that little bit easier and I think obviously there is concerns about the implications of this. But what the report points out is it’s temporary, it’s a little bit to help in the circumstances for this summer with no lasting impact and members can decide what they want to do in the longer term later this year.”

Greens councillor Susan Rae said: “When you say this is going to be the biggest festival ever, they do say that every year – it’s kind of their pitch. So I take that with a pinch of salt.”

Labour councillor Margaret Graham said the concerns were “not really backed up by evidence apart from a lot of amplification of certain sections of the cultural sector”.

She said: “Just because this is just for a six-week period doesn’t mean the concerns residents have don’t still exist. I think this allows people to get off the hook ... I have grave concerns we are being pressured by external market forces which impacts significantly on the residents of the city”.

But Conservatives Cllr Jo Mowat said: “The principle of a temporary exemption was discussed when we introduced the short-term let regulations and licensing scheme in Edinburgh. This is not a change to that, it is simply an adjustment of the fee, which I would hope would encourage more people to register their home letting and home sharing accommodation.”

Cllr Mowat said there was a “latent demand of people who have previously let rooms in the festival who have been put off by the introduction of the licensing scheme”.

While the committee rejected the reduced fee and easing of conditions, recognising the full STL form was “lengthy and detailed”, councillors agreed to trial a shorter application for temporary exemptions.

Cllr Jack Caldwell, from the Lib Dems, said: “Cumbersome paperwork benefits no one.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Cllr Ross said: “Based on what we have heard, this report has come before us today as a direct result of lobbying by the Festival Fringe and others on the Scottish Government. It’s because the Scottish Government has wobbled under the pressure – just as they did last year when they caved into lobbying and postponed the start of the licensing scheme for existing operators by six months.

“We should not be basing our decisions on one-sided anecdotal evidence without hearing from others involved or affected by short-term lets. That can lead to poor decisions with unintended consequences that may need further adjustment later on or may result in a legal challenge.

“The Fringe are always worried about finding accommodation for visitors and performers and the council has helped them his year to secure 500 beds at Queen Margaret University. This committee is already committed to a 12-month review of its entire short-term let licensing policy. Proposals should come to the next meeting with a view to holding a full public consultation over the summer.”



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.