“Property owners should sit up and take stock sooner rather than later”, says Savills.
The Scottish government will first need to draft further guidance on setting up the control areas, but once published, the city council is likely to consider draft proposals defining the extent of these zones. If adopted, the control areas will mean that by 2024 any whole residential properties within them that are being used as full-time holiday lets, will need the benefit of planning permission to continue to operate.
The reason for this timescale is that further new regulations requiring all such properties to be licensed by 2024 are also expected to come into force later this summer. Politicians currently envisage that in local authority areas where control zones have been established, proof of planning permission is likely to be a pre-condition of achieving licensed status. Housing Minister Kevin Stewart has recently confirmed that he expects licence applications to have been made for all such properties by April 2023.
Such an apparent tightening of the rules appears to have popular support in Scotland’s capital. During last year’s consultation on Edinburgh’s next Local Development Plan, 87% of respondents agreed that the Council should consult on the establishment of such control areas in relation to holiday lets. Under the new planning regulations, once such areas are designated, the use of a whole dwelling for short-term lets would constitute a ‘material change of use’, meaning that planning permission would always be required.
At present, in the absence of any big planning sticks to help regulate this type of activity, the few applications that are made for such changes of use are assessed against a policy in the adopted 2016 Local Development Plan that deals with “inappropriate uses in residential areas”.
However, a lot can happen in five years. Back in July 2016 there were ‘only’ 6300 properties advertised in the city on Airbnb; by July 2019, this number had mushroomed to 14,000. This meant that the city’s old town apparently had the highest concentration of such properties anywhere in the UK.
As a litmus test of local mood on this issue, a further 88% of respondents to the same Local Plan consultation also agreed that the Council should create a new and more fit-for-purpose planning policy dealing with the loss of homes to alternative uses.
Local Members seem to be fully on board with moves to fight back against unregulated short-term lets. Commenting on the impact of the proposed new regulations in January 2021, City of Edinburgh Council’s planning vice convenor Maureen Child noted that “As well as having a regulatory scheme in place, we’re also looking forward to using the legislation to control the number of short term lets in the city as properties being let out in these areas would automatically require to have ‘change of use’ planning permission” more…
The Council is certainly not obliged to translate all consultation responses into committed policies. However the public response shows considerable support for the Council’s preferred approach of ensuring that planning permission will always be required for the change of use of whole properties for short-term lets.
The next stage in the evolution of the next Local Development Plan will be when a ‘Proposed Plan’ is considered by Committee. This is likely to be in August this year. This document seems likely to include fuller articulation of what a new planning policy to control short term lets will look like. Given the proposed plan represents the ‘settled view of the Council’, it will thereafter have material weight in the determination of any planning applications of this kind.
Savills planner Angus Dodds has been following the progress of attempts to regulate short term letting in Edinburgh over several years. An occasional Airbnb host himself, he cautions owners from taking too relaxed a view on the impact of these changes in light of the 2024 end-stop date.
“The regulation of short-term lets has always occupied a murky area somewhere on the fringes of both planning and environmental health enforcement; meaning that many local authorities have traditionally taken a bit of a laissez-faire approach. However, both the recent planning regulations and the future licensing regulations represent something with a bit more teeth than we’ve been used to, meaning that owners should sit up and take stock sooner rather than later.
“Owners might be forgiven for thinking that 2024 is a long way off and accordingly a rather distant threat. However, in short term let control areas, if having a planning permission in place is a necessary pre-requisite of getting a licence to operate, the number of planning applications that will need to pass through the system before April 2023 will be considerable. Within Edinburgh, research conducted in May 2019 showed that 6167 ‘whole properties’ were available on Airbnb across the city’s most advertised 10 wards. In the City Centre ward alone there were 2142 such listings.
“The Council seems certain to use these new powers, but we don’t know yet how large its control zones might be. If it was to encompass the whole city for example, that would equate to an awful lot of planning applications. Given the City Council typically validates 400-500 applications every month, a sudden influx of several thousand additional applications could create serious delays if all owners wait till the last minute to get this addressed. In the circumstances keeping a close eye on the situation, and getting your planning application in early would seem to be a wise move”.