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Save Self Catering - It's been a rollercoaster!

We have been on quite a journey this year.


Over the weekend (6th May ‘23) we achieved something that none of the group of self-catering operators were quite able to contemplate in the closing days of 2022. I had been individually lobbying my East Lothian MSP Paul McLennan (where I live) and my Edinburgh city MSP (where my businesses are based) Angus Robertson.

There is clearly an unspoken agenda at work within Edinburgh Council. It's couched in language to attempt to justify it but we only truly need to look at the hard data to realise that it is not about Health & Safety

Repeatedly they assured me, and many other short-stay operators, that there really was nothing to worry about and I was, to paraphrase, making a storm in a teacup. This, according to them, was all about rooting out bad operators. Nothing more. I suspect neither contemplated just what a disaster they had voted into existence when the legislation came into force in October 2022.

Initially, a small group of like-minded owners, some running S/C Units of their own and managing others, came together to look at the rapidly deteriorating situation. We were already seeing the legislation showing its fundamental flaws when it became apparent that some Councils, notably Edinburgh, were minded to weaponise the new rules to create a method of retrospectively pushing existing operators into the clutches of the city's planning department. Some, though not all, Councils interpreted the new STL Legislation as a requirement that any operator with less than 10 years of evidenced continuous operation would have to pay thousands to now apply to planning for what they had been doing legally for years.

This is the Catch-22. In Edinburgh both Licensing & Planning in parallel effectively make it impossible to operate with a 'rebuttal presumption' even if operating for a number of years. But by sending operators back to Planning first, the odds of many ever getting to apply for that licence (the one for health and safety) are remote indeed.

Historically, many operators that had asked about planning requirements were openly told there was no need. That was before the new STL legislation came into force. Things have clearly changed gear and now these same operators are being herded towards what amounts to a summary culling. Since the start of this year, Edinburgh City Council has not green-lit a single applicant seeking, what they euphemistically call a 'change of use' despite having been operating prior to the new STL legislation coming into force across Scotland.

There is clearly an unspoken agenda at work within Edinburgh Council. It's couched in language to attempt to justify it but we only truly need to look at the hard data to realise that it is not about Health & Safety. It's not about protecting the peace of permanent residents (because Edinburgh City Council's own data shows this is a non-issue). It's definitely not about housing (less than 1,369 full time registered S/C Units in Edinburgh & 17,000 for all of Scotland would not make a dent in chronic affordable housing issues going back generations).

So what is it about? Why would the tourist jewel in Scotland’s crown seek to self-harm and create such an existential threat to the wider Edinburgh tourist ecosystem which in turn impacts Scotland as a whole?

It's simply conjecture as real evidence of the intent is almost impossible to pinpoint. But we can see the public-facing actions. City authorities are not giving up brownfield sites, made up of non-revenue generating former retail and office space, for desperately needed affordable housing. Instead, they are being handed to aparthotel operators or new student accommodation (one in five city residents are thought to now be students) entering the market. Many are foreign-owned entities, registered outside of the UK to avoid paying tax to the exchequer.

That's despite everyone pointing to the housing crisis being worse than ever across Scotland. Yet elected Councillors of all political colours have seemingly been convinced that they are doing a good deed by wiping out the livelihoods of local operators whilst green-lighting new development of city aparthotels. The same issues rear their heads in rural areas such as Badenoch & Strathspey. You've probably seen the real-life stories of some of those being affected by various Council’s tactics from all over Scotland.

The bottom line is that decisions are being made by Councils which will have huge repercussions, yet they are making them in a vacuum of contextual data. How many self-catering type units are needed for Edinburgh, for Glasgow, for various popular parts of rural Scotland? This has never been properly quantified so how can councillors in Planning Committees axe existing S/C businesses not truly knowing the full picture?

Yet they are. That’s why this rollercoaster we’re on has little prospect of ending and no-one apparently knows how to apply the brakes!

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