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DAVID RICHARDSON: Impact of short-term lets changes hangs in the balance across the Highlands

By David Richardson

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Business Comment by David Richardson, regional development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses

Businesses have until October 1 to submit their applications for short-term lets.
Businesses have until October 1 to submit their applications for short-term lets.

Own a self-catering, Airbnb or other form of qualifying business and still to apply to Highland Council for your Short-Term Lets (STL) Licence? October 1 is the deadline, and you can only operate thereafter if you have submitted your application on or before this date.

Of course, individual owners can decide for themselves if they want to apply, close or sell their businesses, but we should worry if a lot close. Why? Because the Highlands has a visitor-based economy, and many of the inns, restaurants, shops and so on that serve locals year-round provide employment and keep communities vibrant only exist thanks to visitor spend – and don’t forget the trades people that maintain them.

And many of these visitors – the majority in some parts – stay in STL properties. With only nine weeks to go to the deadline, Highland Council had received only 2466 (25 per cent) of the 10,000 STL applications it originally anticipated. Where are the rest?

While some believe that the potential sale of many properties would depress prices and make them "affordable" – and we certainly need more affordable accommodation for locals and workers – others don’t agree. Based on past experience, many wise heads say that any properties appearing on the market will be snapped up as second homes and used for far fewer weeks a year, dramatically reducing spend in local businesses and helping no-one.

With some 75 per cent of operators still to apply, no-one knows what’s going to happen, but can we afford to gamble with businesses and fragile communities’ futures? The more we all do to encourage applications the better.

For our part, FSB Scotland has written to the Housing Minister, Paul McLennan MSP, asking for his support in encouraging local authorities to take a pragmatic and proportionate approach to implementation and to assist with compliance in early stages.

And there’s more that Highland Council can do. First, it should widely advertise the imminent deadline; second, provide an emergency helpline that Highland operators and others overwhelmed by STL can call; and third, come up with an economic contingency plan should sizeable numbers miss the deadline or opt out.

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