Nicola Sturgeon’s government has been accused of undermining the success of Edinburgh’s festivals by approving plans to force the city’s Airbnb owners to apply for planning permission.
The SNP administration has rubber-stamped proposals tabled by local councils for the whole town to become Scotland’s first short-term control zone.
This means that property owners who rent out a residential property that is not their main residence for a short period must apply for permission for a “change of use” through the planning process.
The move aims to crack down on Airbnb-style accommodation, amid concerns that too many homes are being lost to the “holiday market”.
Around a third of all short-term lettings in Scotland are in Edinburgh, and council leaders want to introduce a city-wide cap on the number of homes that get planning permission under the new scheme.
Timing of the announcement “ironic”
But industry groups attacked the “absolutely devastating” change, warning it would make it harder for performers and visitors to Edinburgh’s summer festivals to find accommodation.
The city’s population is expected to double to almost a million people this month, as tourists flock back to the Edinburgh Fringe, the International Festival and the International Book Festival for the first time since the pandemic.
Although the change will not be implemented until next month, after 2022’s festivals are over, there are fears it will lead to a major shortage of rooms next August.
Fiona Campbell, chief executive of the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, said: “Self-catering properties have been a long-standing presence in Edinburgh for decades, providing an important source of alternative accommodation during major events.
“It is therefore somewhat ironic that this news comes in the same week that many festival artists and visitors will arrive in town.”
The latest crackdown comes after SNP ministers introduced a new licensing system for owners of short-term rentals. New operators will have until 1 October to obtain a licence, while existing operators have until 1 April next year.
Shona Robison, the SNP’s housing secretary, said: “I recognize the important role that short-term lets play as a source of flexible and responsive accommodation for tourists and workers, bringing many benefits to hosts, visitors and our economy.
“But we know that in certain areas, especially tourist hot spots, high numbers of rentals can cause problems for neighbors and make it harder for people to find homes to live in.”
Cammy Day, the town council leader, said: “We will now go ahead with the implementation of the changes and the next step should be to look at whether we can apply a cap on numbers as well.”
An Airbnb spokesman said: “The vast majority of hosts in Scotland are ordinary people who occasionally rent a home to supplement their income.
“Nearly four in 10 say the extra income helps them afford the rising cost of living. We want to be a good partner for government and work together on rules that support local families and protect communities.”