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Failure to halt short-term lets licensing 'disappointing', says Highland MSP

By Philip Murray

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The licensing comes into force on October 1.
The licensing comes into force on October 1.

THE failure of a bid to pause the introduction of short-term lets licensing legislation has been branded "disappointing" by a Highland MSP.

The new licensing rules come into force on October 1, and mean it will be a criminal offence to let out a room in a flat or house, or a whole property, without having a licence in place.

The rules apply to everything from holiday lets to B&Bs and guest houses, and licensed properties will need to have sufficient liability insurance as well as pass gas and fire safety rules.

Advocates for the legislation have argued that licensing is needed to ensure increasing numbers of holiday lets, Airbnbs and other short-term lettings don't force locals out of their local housing market. They also argue the move will help to ensure the safety of people staying in the properties. Critics however have warned that the introduction of the new rules could hit tourism accommodation and small businesses through additional costs at a time when the cost-of-living crisis has already hit their wallets.

A Conservative motion calling for a pause in the legislation, which also received backing from Labour and Lib-Dem MSPs was unsuccessful in its bid to pause the roll-out, and the party's shadow rural spokesman, Jamie Halcro Johnston, who is also a list MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has criticised the result.

He said: “It is disappointing, but sadly predictable, that local SNP MSPs have, once again, put their party interests before those of the people and businesses of the Highlands and Islands they’re supposed to represent.

Related: One month for operators to get a short term let licence under controversial scheme

Related: Highland Council warned short-term lets licensing may be ‘legally unsound’

“By voting down a Scottish Conservative motion calling for a pause on introducing the ill-considered and damaging Short-term Lets Licensing Scheme, they have given the green light to a scheme which is already costing jobs across the region.

“Local people across the Highlands and Islands have invested time and money into their businesses, only to see their efforts put at risk because SNP MSPs refuse to heed repeated warnings of the damage these new regulations could do.

“Short-term Lets Licensing is yet another example of Scottish ministers in Edinburgh pushing through a scheme designed to deal with an issue in the Central Belt and ignoring the impact on rural Scotland.

"Tourism plays such a crucial role in the economy of the Highlands and Islands, supporting jobs and livelihoods in communities right across the region.

“But yet again, we see this anti-business, anti-rural SNP-Green government legislating against the interest of our communities, with their local MSPs happy to fall in behind this damaging scheme”.

The Scottish Greens later hit out at Labour MSPs, accusing them of "betraying" communities by supporting the motion from the Conservatives.

Scottish Government housing minister Paul McLennan also told MSPs that there was no "cliff edge" facing businesses, pointing out that 7763 applications had so far been received by councils, and more than 4700 applications had already been issued to date.

He added: "There have been no refusals to date.”

News that the licensing legislation will come into force as planned on October 1 has also prompted reaction from business groups.

Fiona Campbell, CEO of the Association of Scotland’s Self Caterers, said: “It gives little confidence to businesses when those forcing through this legislation fail to understand it. Even at this late stage, many don’t even understand the policy intention – they’ve had over 22 months to get to grips with it.

"False hope is being offered to communities on the one hand, that the housing crisis will be eased by driving self-caterers out of business, whilst on the other we are being told that this is about health and safety, and not about driving down STL numbers."

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