Should the number of holiday lets be capped? We ask an expert

·3 min read

Across Wales, Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands, holiday lets are driving up house prices and creating empty neighbourhoods out of season. Should ownership of them be capped? I asked consultant Anna Evans, whose research for the Scottish government aimed to pinpoint the positive and negative impact of holiday lets on communities.

Maybe it’s my age, but I honestly can’t remember a time before Airbnb. Did these issues exist before it?
One of the things we found is that, legally, there isn’t a clear definition of what a short-term let is. There have always been holiday lets, but these platforms are making it easier to book.

And easier to let. In England and Wales holiday lets don’t require planning permission to change from residential use.
It’s not only Airbnb, it’s Booking.com and others. The question is about the intensity of the impact in particular areas.

Is there a magic number that is the tipping point from ‘nice to have visitors’ to crisis?
I don’t think it’s as scientific as that. It’s about the feeling of the density and the withdrawal of services for local people. I’ll give you an example: there was a part of the high street in Edinburgh’s New Town where you could always get a paper. But, in 2019, the newsagent closed. It felt as if that part of town was not for locals any more.

Language preservation movements in Scotland, Cornwall and Wales have teamed up to tackle holiday lets as they are having an impact on the number of speakers. There are many other negatives. What are the positives?
The economic impacts. A home-sharing situation – ie a resident renting a spare room – has more positive impacts. You’ve got the direct financial benefit for the host, plus visitors going to restaurants and buying things in gift shops and therefore benefiting the community, and you’re not losing that house from the market. However, we found most short-term lets are for the whole house.

Related: Can I catch up on lost sleep? We ask an expert

So should holiday lets be capped? How practical is it?
Scotland has moved to that. From now on, the owner of every short-term let needs to apply for planning permission if they’re in a control area. And it’s up to the local authority to decide if they want to bring in a control area. The big question is how it’s going to be policed and monitored.

The Scottish policy only came into effect in 2021, so I suppose its impact remains to be seen. The Welsh government is proposing a 300% council tax premium on second homes. But, given short-term lets are so profitable, would that deter people?
I personally don’t think it is a sufficient disincentive.

What are your thoughts on Airbnb making its party ban permanent? Are party monsters a big problem?
It didn’t seem to be the biggest issue. Residents were more concerned about the impact on the housing market, the change to the feel of communities, congestion and bin collections. But I heard about a party in a big stone Victorian building where you’ve got stairs up the middle and individual flats either side. A party of boys got one side, and a party of girls got the other. There were lots of naked people.

Talk about a super-spreader event!
It’s mind-boggling stuff, although cheaper than getting a taxi home.