Letter from Edlets – Short Term Lets – Consultation on a licensing scheme and planning control areas in Scotland

Sent: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Dear Nicola Sturgeon, Kevin Stewart, Kate Forbes, Fergus Ewing, Andrew Mott and Fiona Campbell (ASSC),

I am writing to you as one of directors of Edlets.
Edlets is a platform that advertises and takes bookings for self-catering accommodation in Edinburgh, we also list student residencies, B&Bs, hotels and rooms available for shorter stays.
We have been in business for nearly 20 years and have around 2000 listings. We accommodate a large number of visitors and performers in the Fringe however we operate all year round.
We are listed by Trustpilot as one of the top 5 vacation companies in Europe.

I was pleased to be included in the recent short term let workshop however I was disappointed that Andrew Mott rejected the request to hold another workshop with all the other Edinburgh companies involved.
There are around 30 – 40 businesses in Edinburgh that employ a number of staff who professionally manage, clean and advertise self catering properties in Edinburgh centre,
this group have been left out of the consultation and their voices should be heard.

Edlets are seriously concerned about the impact that the potential licensing and controlled areas will have on our business and all the other professional operators that we work with.
We are also concerned about the impact this proposed legislation will have on The Edinburgh Festival and the other festivals and events in Edinburgh.

We do not believe that Edinburgh council should have the power to set control areas where planning permission will always be required.
We think that this will potentially close down all of the self catering properties that our businesses and the Edinburgh festivals depend on.

Edinburgh Council have mentioned publicly that they are planning on returning properties uses as short term lets to peoples homes [1]
Neil Gardiner, the city’s planning convener, told The Times: “We’re very clear that we want to protect residential amenity and to ensure that properties are returned to being people’s homes. We’re hoping to have draft regulations from the Scottish Government on short-term let control areas later this year and expect them to come into effect at some point next year. We will implement these measures swiftly.”
There are other articles with similar comments and it seems clear that the council intend to implement controlled areas and not grant anyone planning permission probably across the whole city.
We have a lot of questions that remain unanswered. Here are a few:

Why have we not been shown a “Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment” ?

During the workshop and by email I asked you if you have assessed the impact that licensing and control areas will have on businesses and the wider economy with a “Business and Regulatory Impact assessment” [2] you said that you have not. Should this not have taken place prior to the consultation? To make an informed decision surely businesses, public and everyone involved need to understand the impact of your proposed measures prior to filling out the consultation.

Have you looked into the financial impact of potentially closing down all these self-catering businesses?

Most of the owners listed on Edlets that we have spoken to have said they will either sell or go back to long term let if the licenses and control areas are implemented.
Most do not want to have to work with Edinburgh council, many have reported how difficult it is to work with them to obtain a HMO license.
Many distrust the council and the planning department and believe them to be unfair.
Some have experienced issues with statutory notices that have taken them years to sort out.
Most believe they will be asked to pay for a license or planning permission and it will not be granted and Edinburgh council will keep their money.
Mainly they do not feel that Edinburgh Council should be allowed to have a free reign to decide on controlled areas, cost of a license and who gets permission especially as Edinburgh council appear to be against short term lets.

Has the impact to the Edinburgh Festival and all the other festivals been considered?

Edinburgh’s festivals as a whole contribute £313 million to the Scottish economy [3]
Edinburgh Festival performers, workers and many visitors need to stay in short term lets in Edinburgh City Centre.
Where will these performers and visitors stay if the self catering and STL options are no longer available?
They will not be able to afford hotels or aparthotels and not many people rent out private homes (not many people can get a month off work in August and go on holiday).
We work with the student residences and they are normally full to capacity, they are often too expensive for performers as they have double beds rather than single beds.
Many people want to stay in a flat, they do not like the sterile feel of the student blocks.
We accommodate a lot of festival visitors that we believe will not visit unless they are able to stay in central traditional self-catering apartments.
The PRT has meant that many long term let landlords that used to rent in the term time to students and performers in the festival are no longer able to accommodate festival groups,
this is because students now leave in May (previously they had an end date to a tenancy). These landlords try to get new tenants in May so they will pay for the whole years rent therefore these flats are no longer available to performers. Most student landlords cant afford to leave their flat empty from May to August for just 1 festival let and it’s unlikely that the few that do will want to apply for a temporary license.
The PRT landlords are unable to confirm bookings for festival performers until the last minute as their tenants can give 1 month notice, this is too late for performers.
Many performers have been telling us that they are already struggling to afford to come to Edinburgh, license and controlled areas will seriously limit their accommodation options.

Have you looked into the financial and the legal implications for all the self-catering businesses that have moved bookings (to the next 2 years) and have issued credit notes to guests?

We have a lot of bookings for performers and visitors from to the festival and also anyone that booked from March that we have moved due to the pandemic and the Fringe being cancelled, Airbnb, booking.com etc have moved theirs too, if these properties do not get a license or planning permission then all these bookings will have to be cancelled.

Does Edinburgh really want cancelled bookings at a time when Scotland will probably really need tourist income and The Edinburgh Festival to re-open and welcome it’s performers and visitors back.
Also will Airbnb, Booking.com, VRBO and all the smaller companies be expected to refund guests if they can’t be accommodated due to licenses?
With the impact of Covid-19 I think many companies are running low in funds and this may well tip them over the edge.

Why would you push through this legislation during a global pandemic and do you have a duty to protect Scottish businesses and jobs and the economy?

Self-catering is really suffering right now due to the pandemic, people can only accommodate 1 household and nobody is travelling, tourism has been one of the worst hit industries.
I’m getting calls on a daily basis from people that are struggling financially and their mental health is being severely impacted! People are not getting any bookings, the situation is dire.
Kate Forbes said that “Scottish government analysis suggested that 61,000 jobs would be saved if the furlough scheme was extended” [4]
it does not look like it’s being extended, surely you have a duty to protect Scottish businesses and jobs?
The Self-catering industry is reportedly worth £723 million per annum to the Scottish Economy [5] and 15,271 jobs and £87.7 million in Edinburgh.[6] this should be taken into account.

Why did you base some of your research on inaccurate data and are you taking into account that many short term lets have gone back to long term lets due to the pandemic?

The numbers of short term lets in Edinburgh that you based some of your research on was inaccurate. Scraped data from Airbnb includes homes rented part time, rooms, festival rentals, duplicate listings, old listings and long term lets. I believe Airbnb also provided you with some figures and they also included all of the above. The figures published in various newspapers were incorrect.
Do you have the accurate numbers? A large number of short term lets have gone back to long term let due to the pandemic and others have not any bookings or income since March.
Your decision will put an entire industry at risk of closure and it’s important to know how many STLs really do exist in Edinburgh?

What are the reasons for this legislation and do you have data to prove that the legislation will solve the issues?

Is it because of complaints and anti-social behaviour?
You mentioned in the workshop you have “heard a few horror stories” but where can people see how many complaints you have had?
Why close down so many peoples businesses and livelihoods because of a handful of bad operators?
What about the majority of people that have been running professionally managed self catering flats for years without complaints from their neighbours, they should not be closed down?

Are you blaming self catering for the housing crisis?

Where is your accurate data showing the number of short term lets in Edinburgh and how it affects the housing crisis?
Statements such as “one in 4 properties in Edinburgh are a short term let” [7] have been published however it’s completely inaccurate.
Data shared by Shelter only shows the number of Airbnb listings not the actual full time entire homes available all year round that are active listings,
Shelter said “This is no surprise when you look at the figures. In the last year, Airbnb listings in Scotland have shot up. In 2016, there were 6,300 Airbnb listings in Edinburgh. By 2017, this was up to 9000 – almost a 50% increase in one year” [8] I explained how these are not all “entire homes” but include all other types of lets and duplicate and old listings.
The sharing of inaccurate data may have made the public believe that traditional self-catering is responsible for high rents.
Have you also looked into how many people are moving to Edinburgh, population growth and how many students rent flats in the city as this may also contribute to high rents?.
Also in The Edinburgh and South East City Region Deal it states The Scottish Government signed off £65 million towards a regional housing programme, including the creation of a new housing company and housing infrastructure funding to enable the delivery of 41,000 new homes, how many of these have been built so far?
Is self-catering being used as a scapegoat for the lack of affordable housing?

Are you concerned with safety?

The safety regulations already in place are being adhered to by professional operators and are aware that the safety regulations in place are the same as long term lets.
Safety is not the issue. If you are concerned with safety why not make it clear to operators what the safety obligations are and have a simple online registration for short term let landlords.

Does Edinburgh Council want to make money from license and planning fees?

A fee could also be charged for an online registration.

Why is the legislation being rushed through as an SSI rather than going to parliament to be debated when the impact of the licensing and controlled areas was not explained in the first consultation?

According to a recent ASSC Survey 95.92% of people involved in self catering believe that the legislation required greater parliamentary scrutiny.
When the initial consultation was published many people did not know that the legislation would effect the whole of Scotland, they believed it would only affect Edinburgh.
Home sharers, house swappers and people that let their own home for short periods were not informed that it would affect them.
Many people did not complete the consultation and those that did were not presented with the actual facts and the implications of the licensing.
MSP Andy Wightman said on his Homes First Blog “From the outset, I do not have a problem with people opening up their own homes and letting a spare room to visitors or to arranging house-swaps for holiday or leisure. Such activity is at the heart of the sharing or collaborative economy.” [9]
Andy Wightman has lead the Homes First campaign against short term lets and influenced a lot of people to fill in the consultation, the information above would have led a lot of people involved in short term letting into a false sense of security and made them believe they didn’t need to fill in the first consultation.

Why have anonymous groups like Place Edinburgh been allowed to shape and influence the first consultation and who are they?

The group “Place Edinburgh” asked people to fill in the first consultation and agree to what place say.
The claim they: “Wrote the second most quoted paper in the Scottish Government Consultation on Short-term Lets” [10] and
“Established the most comprehensive and up to date summary of case law on short-term lets case law in Scotland” [10]
How much did this group influence the initial consultation and who are they?
We need proper research and the true facts to be laid out prior to a consultation, if anonymous groups without an address or a representative are influencing and shaping the proposed licensing and control areas then we would like to know who they are and why their opinion is so important.
The public and the businesses have not fully understood the implications of this license and planning and may have believed the inaccurate data that was presented by the media and anonymous groups.

Is it fair to hand over the power of licensing and controlled areas to Edinburgh Council when they have a vested interest in Hotels, surely this is a conflict of interest?

Some recent articles in the press mentioned Edinburgh Councils interest in Hotels:
“Plans for the Edinburgh International Conference Centre to open its own hotel and hotel school at Haymarket were approved by Edinburgh City Council in early March.”[11]
“Edinburgh city council is one of several local authorities across the UK facing a sharp financial haircut after participating in a scheme that saw councils purchase or build property which was then leased to hotel chain Travelodge.”[12]

I don’t think many people realised that The City of Edinburgh council develops and leases hotels, this clearly shows they have a vested interest in hotels.
It has been shown that the hotel lobby are against Airbnb and STLs in general. In a New York Times Article titled “Inside the Hotel Industry’s plan to combat Airbnb” It writes:
“The main prongs of the association’s plan to constrain Airbnb include lobbying politicians and state attorneys general to reduce the number of Airbnb hosts, funding studies to show Airbnb is filled with people who are quietly running hotels out of residential buildings and highlighting how Airbnb hosts do not collect hotel taxes and are not subject to the same safety and security regulations that hotel operators must follow. “[13]
Is this what is happening in Edinburgh?

Have you considered all the options to solve the problem (which has not yet been understood)

Have you considered a simple register for short term let landlords like the long term let landlords registration?
Operators would pay a fee and the same safety requirements as long term lets should be followed.
If you did this you would have some real evidence as to the actual numbers and avoid putting excessive burdens on operators and the local councils.
All the businesses and the public would also be able to see how many self-catering flats and full time STLs actually exist and then decisions could be made on factual data rather than false data.

More time and research is needed, we need a proper business impact assessment so everyone can understand the consequences of the licensing and control areas and the reasoning and evidence behind the legislation. We would be in favour of a simple online registration with mandatory safety requirements.

We do not want our 20 year old businesses and all the livelihoods of our staff who support their children from the wages that we pay and all the hard working people in this industry and The Edinburgh Festival to be decimated by a political decision that has been rushed through and not been properly assessed or scrutinised by parliament.

We do not believe our business will be able to continue to operate if the licensing and control areas are implemented.

Yours sincerely,


[1] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/edinburgh-crackdown-as-airbnb-homes-skip-permission-3zqd5cpmw
[2] https://www.gov.scot/publications/bria-guidance/
[3] https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/scottish-festivals-boosts-economy-by-millions/48946/
[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-54279783
[5] https://supercontrol.co.uk/scottish-self-catering-sector-worth-723-3-million-pa-finds-assc
[6] https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-expert-advisory-panel-collaborative-economy-evidence-paper/pages/2/
[7] https://www.thenational.scot/news/18252956.concerns-raised-growing-rate-airbnb-listings-scotland/
[8] https://blog.scotland.shelter.org.uk/short-term-lets-impact-scotlands-housing-system/
[9] https://greens.scot/homesfirst/why-homes-first
[10] https://blog.scotland.shelter.org.uk/short-term-lets-impact-scotlands-housing-system/
[11] https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/politics/council/fears-new-400-bed-hotel-could-be-white-elephant-council-2984189
[12] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/travelodge-gives-edinburgh-council-a-rude-wake-up-call-sxjl5km8v
[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/16/technology/inside-the-hotel-industrys-plan-to-combat-airbnb.html