Airbnb regulations “will endanger thousands of rural jobs”

MSPS has been warned that plans to regulate Airbnb-style short-term rentals could endanger thousands of jobs in rural Scotland and wipe out more than £ 113million in the economy in isolated communities .

The Holyrood Local Government and Communities Committee recommended that MSPs approve Scottish Government plans to introduce a licensing scheme for short-term rentals, including certain B & Bs, as well as powers for local councils to put in place of control zones through planning rules – although ministers can veto any use of the policy.

But an analysis commissioned by Airbnb claimed that if the rules were approved, businesses in rural parts of the country could be hit hard.

The company suggested that some rural hospitality businesses “will never reopen at all.”

The Biggar Economics study found that the proposed legislation would endanger 5,555 jobs and £ 113.1million per year in rural Scotland.

READ MORE: MSPs back SNP’s Airbnb crackdown plans despite B&B concerns

The study also claimed that the thousands of job losses expected in rural Scotland could lead to a 30 per cent increase in unemployment in those areas, raising the unemployment rate above the national average.

Patrick Robinson, Director of Public Policy at Airbnb, said: “Tourism is a vital source of income for rural communities across Scotland.

“We know that once the recovery arrives and tourism returns safely, people will be looking to travel nearby with their loved ones, providing a welcome boost to rural communities who could benefit from it. In the meantime, we should do everything we can to help hosts and businesses prepare to reopen safely and avoid hampering them with legislation that could mean some will never reopen at all. ”

Businesses in rural Scotland have denounced the plans, saying the policy was developed to solve a problem in Edinburgh, but is not suitable nationally.

READ MORE: SNP’s Airbnb crackdown plans ‘against EU law’ despite pledge to ‘keep pace’

In Edinburgh, there are believed to be around 14,000 short-term rental listings – with council officials pointing out that the explosion of Airbnb-style properties is pushing up rents in the city, contributing to homelessness due to the withdrawal of houses from the market and causing nuisance. and the anti-social behavior problems of residents.

The Edinburgh Place campaign group “strongly refuted any claim that the proliferation of short-term rentals has brought economic benefits to Scotland”.

The organization highlighted figures from the Scottish Parliament Information Center (SPICe), showing “no increase in spending by overnight visitors to Scotland since 2011 despite an increase of over 31,000 short-term rentals on a single platform during this period. period”.

Wendy Hebard, who lives in Edinburgh’s Old Town, said the growing number of short-term rentals in the city center, which now total more than the number of properties available for rent, “has seriously affected many people waiting for rental housing listings or those looking for affordable housing to buy.

She added: “It has deprived us of neighbors and subjected us to an ever-changing flow of new occupants and people servicing the properties, threatening our safety and during the Covid period, endangering our health. ”

But rural businesses have echoed Airbnb’s warning that the economy could be damaged by the new rules.

Judith Bryant, who runs a B&B, warned that “the balance between the long-term sustainability of local communities and the promotion of tourism will be seriously compromised” by the new laws.

She added: “A large part of the owners of self-catering accommodation and bed and breakfasts in the small villages of the west coast of Scotland will simply be unable to afford the cost of a hefty license. Our businesses would become unsustainable.

“There is a risk that more tourists will borrow motorhomes to explore the Highlands with a reduction in other places to stay.

READ MORE: Minister SNP: Short-term rental plans could penalize rural businesses

“I think the government has allowed the problems in Scottish towns with Airbnb rentals to take a holistic approach to the rest of the country, which needs to be rethought.”

David Bilcliffe, who runs an independent catering business in Orkney, said he could “see it working for Edinburgh and in downtown situations but not elsewhere,” warning that “one size really doesn’t fit. all”.

He added: “If, for example, the Orkney Islands Council were to adopt this, then probably half of the independent businesses in Orkney, including ours, will close. Why? Because there is no point in continuing as the suggested cost of the license wipes out any benefit over the cost. ”

The Highland Council warned MSPs that it is “very unlikely within the proposed time frame” that the authority will be able to implement the new rules.

In a submission to MSPs, the authority added: “This proposed licensing scheme has a disproportionate effect on the Highlands – in relation to both the substantial number of short-term rentals in the area and the geographic distance that needs to be covered.

“The deadlines for introducing this licensing regime are unrealistic both for local authorities and for operators who may have to carry out major work to ensure that the premises meet repair standards, especially for the units. who didn’t need it before. ”

Minister of Housing Kevin Stewart

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart last week told MSPs he “had problems” with him regarding the impact of short-term rentals “in many parts of the country.”

Mr Stewart pointed out in a Scottish Government study which highlighted Skye and the East Neuk of Fife “where there are obvious tensions over the balance between economy and community”.

He added that the rules “have given local authorities the autonomy and independence to put in place what suits them”.

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