Exclusive:'Short-term let licensing about safety, not increasing home availability' - Housing minister

The deadline for businesses to apply for a licence is this Sunday

Scotland’s crackdown about short-term lets has nothing to do with increasing the amount of available housing in cities like Edinburgh, the housing minister has said.

In an interview with The Scotsman’s political podcast, The Steamie, Paul McLennan rejected arguments from campaigners that the licensing scheme is too expensive and risks businesses closing doors.

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He defended the scheme, stating the costs equated to around £5 a week, and repeatedly claimed it was about safety rather than demonising the sector.

Campaigners and lobby groups have pushed hard over the summer attempting to force the Scottish Government to pause the deadline for licensing applications for existing short-term lets.

However the government has remained steadfastly committed to the deadline which passes on October 1.

Opponents to the scheme, which includes all the major opposition parties and some SNP MSPs such as serial rebel, Fergus Ewing, claim the plans risk undermining Scottish tourism and will drive successful businesses into the ground.

The scheme requires existing short-term let operators, which can include Airbnbs, room lets, and B&Bs to apply for a licence from their local council.

It includes a certain level of safety requirements such as mandatory carbon monoxide alarms, aimed, the government say, to increase the level of health and safety among an up-to-now unregulated sector.

Critics claim the scheme is being used by the government as a way to scapegoat short-term let operators for a broader failure to build enough homes to tackle the housing crisis.

Asked whether success includes more houses entering the market due to the licensing scheme forcing some businesses to shut their doors, Mr McLennan rejected the suggestion.

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“Success would be making sure we’ve got a suite of short-term let providers that we know have to meet the safety standards,” he said.

“It’s about coming back to the reason why the policy was brought in, and that we’ve got a sector we know that is safe and is in comparison with the hotel sector.”

The minister, who represents East Lothian as an MSP, added that the housing crisis was “much broader” than any issues around short-term lets.

He said: “[We have] 32 local authorities having 32 different housing mixes.

“The housing mix is much broader in terms of what we need to do in Edinburgh, what we need to do in Glasgow, what we need to do in the Highlands, for example.

“That may come through, we may see part of that, but the mix in terms of what we need to do and the solution around it is much broader than just short-term lets.

“This is around about safety and bringing it up to the standards of where hotels should be at.”

Such is the fury around the scheme, with operators claiming they are being forced to stump up thousands of pounds to simply apply for a licence before costs for bringing properties up to code are included, that critics have resorted to likening the scheme to a “pogrom” and the Highland Clearances.

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This language was criticised by Mr McLennan, who said campaigners must use balanced language when debating the issues.

He said: “When you start to err on to the side of mentioning pogroms or liking it to the Highland Clearances, I don't think it's helpful to the debate at all.

“There have been arguments that have come from both sides that have been very reasoned and I think in any debate, I think a reasoned debate is a much better way to get your point across.”

He added: “Politics can be very emotional. I think the challenge to people who have these views is to try and keep the language balanced.

“I don't think that helped their case.”

Pressed on whether it was fair to say the policy had failed due to businesses closing their doors because of its implementation, Mr McLennan said the cost should not be prohibitive to those operating short-term lets.

He said: “There have obviously been many issues that have impacted businesses over the last number of years, particularly in the last year if you’re talking about inflation.

“Tourism in Scotland has been doing quite well in terms of recovery from Covid and continues to do well and I expect it to continue to do that.

“But coming back to the point, you're talking about five pounds a week for the cost of the licence.

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“If there's more work required, again, it comes back to that that should have been in place in the first place.”

The policy is due to undergo a review in the early part of next year, in line with requirements within the legislation.

However, the housing minister said this would not consider whether the scope of the scheme struck the right balance.

“We’ll obviously discuss with colleagues right across the sector about how that’s gone, but the review itself is about how the policy was implemented,” Mr McLennan said.

“We’ll continue to look at the feedback we get in terms of that [scope of the scheme], but certainly the implementation review was all about the implementation.

“But the implementation review is around how the policy, in this form, was brought in.”

The minister also rejected criticism from across the opposition and from campaigners that the scheme was yet another example of the SNP failing to listen to business on key issues.

He said: “I know the ASSC have said we’ve not been listening. I met with them on about four or five occasions.

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“We maybe have not agreed but we have certainly listened to them and we will continue to listen to them as we look at the post-implementation review.”

You can listen to the full interview by downloading the latest episode of The Steamie, The Scotsman’s political podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts.



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