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Holiday lets in Edinburgh – has the bubble burst?

Fancy a city break anyone? Who could resist a few days in an iconic European city that also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

So, where to stay – one of Edinburgh’s many hotels or perhaps a flat is more appealing? There are lots of options to consider. Interestingly, the concentration of Airbnb’s in Edinburgh is four times greater than in London, Paris or New York, but could three recent enforcement notice appeal decisions (1, 2, 3) point the way towards a clampdown on the operation of Airbnb’s and short term holiday lets in Edinburgh?

The appeals related to three separate properties in the same block located in the heart of the tourist centre and lying in close proximity to Princes Street Gardens and the Castle. All three properties were one bedroom flats, with sofa beds in the living room, thereby allowing occupation by up to 4 adults. In summary, the enforcement notices stated that the flats were being used for short term commercial visitor accommodation, without having obtained planning permission and, accordingly, required the alleged use to cease within two months.

The key here was whether there had been a material change of use from residential flats which had resulted in harm to the amenity of adjoining occupiers. Reference was made in the various submissions to City of Edinburgh Council’s Local Development Plan policy Hou 7 (inappropriate uses in residential areas) and the Council’s non-statutory Guidance for Business. The Guidance provides advice on whether the use of a residential property for short term commercial visitor accommodation requires planning permission and refers to the need for an assessment of (i) the character of the new use and the wider area; (ii) the size of the property; (iii) the pattern of activity associated with the use, including the number of occupants, the period of use, issues of noise, disturbance and parking demand; and (iv) the nature and character of any services provided.

In all three cases, the Scottish Government Reporter refused the appeals having concluded that there had been a material change of use, taking account of the number of arrivals and departures, the likelihood of increased noisy activity late in the evening, increased activity due to cleaning the properties, luggage drop-off in between checking in and out and the increased use of the communal drying area by guests for socialising – all of which would be greater than if the properties were in use by a single household.

Meanwhile, the Green MSP, Andy Wightman, has successfully tabled an amendment to the Planning (Scotland) Bill which would require property owners to obtain planning consent in order to change a main residence into a short-term let property such as an Airbnb. This would only apply to a main residence, rather than second homes and is still to be considered by all MSPs at Stage 3 of the Bill next year.

City of Edinburgh Council believes a licensing regime would be the best way to control short term lets and has asked the Scottish Government to consider introducing this.

So, plenty to consider going forward for owners of holiday lets – maybe book that city break sooner rather than later?

Compulsory Sales Orders: An aid to regeneration in Scotland?

A new Compulsory Sales Order (CSO) power could tackle the blight of abandoned buildings and parcels of vacant and derelict land in town centres and communities across Scotland, according to a report published by the Scottish Land Commission (SLC).

The proposed new power would provide planning authorities with a mechanism to bring sites and buildings that have been unoccupied and/or derelict for an undue period of time, and where this is having a detrimental impact on the surrounding community, back into productive use.

Communities and local authorities already have a number of policy instruments – including compulsory purchase orders – which can be used to help regeneration. However, these policies require a clear plan in place as to how the land or building in question would be used. In many cases, local authorities and communities do not have a specific end use in mind for problematic sites but simply wish to see them used for some productive purpose. Resource constraints may also deter local authorities from pursuing a compulsory purchase action.

Although recent right to buy legislation would provide a potential route for bringing sites back into productive use, restoring some sites would be complex and technically challenging and, often, there is no desire on the part of the local community to take on such a project (see our Real Estate’s team’s recent article).

Whilst the SLC’s suggestion is that CSOs could be part of a toolkit to bring unused land back into productive use, the report states that a CSO would be used as a power of last resort and that councils and land owners should work together to try and find solutions first. As a CSO would involve the state directly interfering with an individual’s property rights by forcing a sale of the relevant property, the public interest in doing so must clearly outweigh the cost to the individual. Examples of the types of sites that might be tackled using the new power include sites such as empty homes, abandoned shopping centres, derelict hotels, gap sites and abandoned or derelict commercial buildings.

The SLC suggests that the real strength of CSOs lies in the role they could play in facilitating constructive dialogue between local authorities and owners of problematic sites. Certainly, in some situations, the serving of a preliminary investigation notice in relation to a site could incentivise an owner to take action.

The Scottish Government has committed to bring forward CSOs during the course of the next parliament and the SLC report is intended to provide the Scottish Government with a robust framework to do so. Clearly, any mechanism which could facilitate the redevelopment of vacant or derelict brownfield sites is to be welcomed, but it remains to be seen how Scotland’s already under-resourced planning authorities would be able to deal with the new opportunities should the SLC proposals be introduced.

Need for up to date local development plans

We consider a recent appeal decision for 601 houses at Overtown which confirms that unless Local Authorities keep local development plans up to date and demonstrate effective housing supply they will lose planning appeals, even on green belt land.

Read the full article