MSPs call for action on Airbnbs and Covid-19 after concerns labelled 'manifestly ill-founded' by Fergus Ewing

Andy Wightman was among MSPs to call for further guidance.Andy Wightman was among MSPs to call for further guidance.
Andy Wightman was among MSPs to call for further guidance.
Two Lothians MSPs have called for clearer guidance for short-term lets in residential tenements

MSPs have said concerns around the reopening of short-term lets in residential tenements as lockdown continues to ease must be addressed “urgently”.

Tourism minister Fergus Ewing labelled concerns around the potential risk of the transmission of Covid-19 in communal stairwells where Airbnbs operate as “manifestly ill-founded”.

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Campaign group PLACEEdinburgh had written to the minister raising concerns the reopening of the industry could lead to an increased risk of catching and potential exposure to the virus.

The group said there was a lack of guidance around measures short-term let operators would have to take to ensure the safety of neighbours.

Labour MSP for the Lothians, Sarah Boyack, said the issue needed to be addressed “urgently”.

She said: “Residents who share stairwells in traditional tenement blocks are concerned about the lack of guidance on how social distancing will work in practice once tourists return.

People are concerned about a potential increase in tourist traffic through their shared residential areas. Much more clarity is needed to put people’s minds at rest, especially those who are shielding or are vulnerable.”

Green MSP for the Lothian region, Andy Wightman, who is a long time campaigner against short-term lets, also wrote to Mr Ewing urging the minister to consider issuing specific guidance for Airbnbs in tenements.

He said: “Residents living in buildings occupied by short-term lets – many of which are unlawful as they do not have planning permission – will be put at risk. These residents may still be shielding, self-isolating, have caring responsibilities or working in front-line services.

“The lockdown period has provided a brief respite for some residents who live next to short-term lets, and some properties have returned to becoming homes, but unfortunately many short-term lets have continued to operate despite government advice.

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“It’s important that the safety of residents should be the Scottish Government’s primary concern as lockdown restrictions are lifted, not the incomes of short-term let owners.”

In the letter, Mr Wightman added: “I am extremely concerned that many of my constituents who are full-time residents of such shared stairs and who share entrances, gates, hallways and stairs with short-term lets will be put at risk.

“Can you assure me that any guidance issued by Scottish Ministers will be informed by scientific advice on the health and safety impacts of many visitors from the UK and beyond arriving in and using shared facilities.”

Yesterday, tourism minister Fergus Ewing responded to the concerns, saying “These claims are manifestly ill-founded as a glance at the guidance will make clear”.

The Association of Scottish Self-Caterers said their members criticised the concerns raised by PLACEEdinburgh as “spurious”.

Fiona Campbell, the ASSC’s chief executive, said: “The ASSC takes the safety of the communities in which our members operate very seriously and have issued guidance specifically for properties with shared stairwells. Our professional members will, as they always do, follow government guidance as it evolves, and best practice.

“We have offered to discuss PLACE’s concerns with the cleaning protocols but this request was declined. This invitation remains open should they change their mind.

“Our hardworking members, in a sector worth £723m to our economy, are once again subject to spurious attacks from an anonymous group of people without the first clue about who we are or what we do.”

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“Meanwhile, the ASSC has been working productively, with the Scottish Government and our other partners, to develop a strict and stringent set of industry-leading cleaning protocols that will allow our sector to get back to work and get Scottish tourism back on its feet again.”

“We created our robust cleaning protocols, which have been supported by the Scottish Government, while those with an inexplicably passionate grudge against our sector continued to carp obsessively from the side-lines and offered no constructive way forward.”

“As a trade body, the ASSC continues to urge all of our members, and the general public, to follow all Scottish Government advice on staying safe so that we can all get back to normality as soon as possible.”



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