'A kick in the teeth' - Airbnbs must be safe, MSPs urge Scottish Government

A campaign group has called on the government to review the decision as a “matter of urgency”.

Adam McVey fell short of criticising the announcement by the Scottish Government that tenement Airbnbs will reopen from July 15.

The Scottish Government’s decision to allow holiday lets and Airbnbs in shared tenements to reopen from July 15 has been described by an MSP as a “kick in the teeth”.

Short-term lets had been banned from opening if they had shared entrances or shared facilities by the Scottish Government on July 3, but the government confirmed that restriction would be relaxed come the wider opening of the tourism sector on July 15.

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Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey had welcomed the move at the weekend when calling for landlords to return holiday flats to the residential market, but fell short of criticising the decision to relax the measures today.

Andy Wightman labelled the decision a "kick in the teeth".

However, Green Lothian MSP Andy Wightman called for the full scientific basis of the decision to be made public, while Labour MSP for the Lothians, Sarah Boyack called for “regulation and guidance” from the government specifically for tenement Airbnbs.

Mr Wightman said the decision would mean “misery” for thousands in Edinburgh who live with short-term lets.

He said: “If short-term lets in shared stairs are to be allowed to open from 15 July, this is a kick in the teeth for the thousands of residents whose lives have been made a misery by the proliferation of mini-hotels operating without planning consent in residential stairs. I wrote to Fergus Ewing about this on 12 June but have not yet had a reply.

“It is incumbent on the Government to explain clearly to residents why opening up tenements to tourists from all over the world is of no public health concern. Until they do that, I will continue to argue that they should remain shut.”

Ms Boyack added that while she welcomed the return of tourists, she recognised concerns from residents had been made “very clear”.

She said: “Edinburgh residents have made their concerns about the operation of short term lets within tenements buildings very clear.

“We’ve essentially gone from over-tourism to no tourism, so of course I welcome the return of visitors to help kickstart the local economy. But, there needs to be some degree of regulation and guidance from the government that all safety measures to protect residents will be in place.

“People are understandably worried about health and safety. Measures are being established to protect the people as other buildings re-open, whether it’s our schools, galleries or cafes. We need appropriate safeguards applied to re-opening of short term lets.

“Residents’ concerns need to be addressed by the Scottish Government, especially during this pandemic where health and safety is key.”

Leader of the council, the SNP’s Cllr McVey said: “There is no shortage of hotel rooms in the city right but there is a shortage of homes. We’ve been clear than any short term let properties without permission to operate should move their properties back into the residential market.

“The Council is willing to help landlords do this by working with them to enlist properties to help us house people in the city who need secure accommodation now.

“The important thing now is getting the regulatory powers we need as quick as possible to properly and effectively regulate and control short term lets and enforce our Council’s policy.”

Grassroots campaign group PLACEEdinburgh also called on the Scottish Government to review the decision “as a matter of urgency” and said neighbours to short-term lets are “hugely distressed” following the announcement.

A spokesman said: “PLACE has been inundated with messages and e-mails of concerns. It is clear that residents that share facilities with short-term lets are hugely distressed about this decision, especially those who are shielding and will not be able to leave their homes until at least the end of July.

“Residents need to see the justification for this decision and be reassured that those who made the decision understand the true nature of these businesses in terms of the high customer and staff turnover, high disruption, low supervision and extremely low compliance with planning regulations.

“Visitors need to be reassured that where they are staying is lawful and compliant with the Coronavirus: tourism and hospitality sector guidance.

“Our residents deserve a safe place to live. Our visitors deserve a safe place to stay. We hope this decision is reviewed as a matter of urgency.”

However, Fiona Campbell, the chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers dismissed the concerns as “familiar complaints” from people with a “longstanding grudge” against the self-catering sector.

She said: “Scotland’s self-caterers welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to stick by its plan that sees self-contained self-catering accommodation reopen on 3 July with the rest of Scottish tourism, including short-term lets in shared stairwells getting back to business on July 15.

“While they will be inundated with familiar complaints from those with a longstanding grudge against Scotland’s £723million self-catering sector, we would encourage the Scottish Government to continue to be guided by better informed, evidence-based voices in their considerations.

“Self-catering is proud to be leading the way of in the reopening of Scottish tourism and we are ready to get back to business offering safe, memory-making experiences while demonstrating that Scotland will always welcome visitors who come here to enjoy our beautiful country.”