Submitted by Editor on Mon, 03/04/2023 - 16:40

This is a longer version (with new reactions afterwards) of the article which appeared in Issue 327.

Readers are doubtless familiar with the recent background of short-term lets (STLs) in Edinburgh – namely, that following the passing by the Scottish Government of a law enabling local authorities to designate 'Short-term let planning control areas', City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) immediately announced the establishment of such a control area, covering the whole local-authority area, which came into force on 5 September 2022.

The impact of being in a ‘control area’ is that potential STLs must obtain planning permission for change of use. Throughout Scotland there is now also a licensing system for STLs (covering matters such as police checks for landlords and their agents; insurance; gas and electricity safety; energy performance certificates).

Slow progress

To date, only 120 planning applications have been made city-wide since the new procedures came into force on 1 October 2022 (around 25 in Spurtleshire). This low number (when the figure of 12,000 (extracted from an Airbnb database, which seems to be the only estimate that has ever been made for the total number of STLs in Edinburgh) probably reflects the fact that the application deadline for existing STLs has been pushed back to October 2023 (from April). There seems little incentive for owners to apply at the moment – the only applications approved have related to aparthotel-type operations where ‘residential amenity’ of neighbours is not a factor.

But a further incentive to hold back is that litigation is underway against CEC, on the basis that the system which CEC has put in place seems to be not just a licensing scheme to weed out bad operators and improve the safety of guests, but a way of completely eradicating STLs from the city, in a way which breaches numerous principles of law. This litigation is making its way towards the courts in May, and many operators must be hoping that their application will be considered more positively after that. 

Is the public right?

Public opinion seems firmly behind expelling all STLs from the city – not just Airbnbs with lock-boxes, not just those on tenement stairs, not just those that are for under a week, or not just those which attract complaints.

But some may wonder why it’s apparently absolutely fine to have multiple rowdy HMOs on a stair, whereas the one-bedroom flat in which some middle-aged couple might spend a pleasant long weekend is apparently an uncontrollable nuisance.

Some others may wonder whether it’s an easy option for the Council to blame STLs for ‘hollowing out’ the Old Town, when surely the lack of appropriate retail to support long-term residents is a major factor. Particularly, when the Council actually owns many of the retail units in the Old Town.

The current scheme has put the kibosh not just on Airbnb, but also on the type of lettings sought out by people moving to Edinburgh for work, or here for a short-term project; people having their homes renovated, and so on. 

Might we in Edinburgh have something of an inflated sense of our own city, and of the charm that our existence as residents here adds to it?—Caroline Roussot [A condensed version of this article appeared in Issue 327.]

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Louise Dickins, one of the petitioners in the Judicial Review – who has run her own self-catering business from Dundas St for 25 years – says:—'All the petitioners and the many professional operators in the city want bad operators to be closed down. We provide a service which is vital for Edinburgh to be able to function as a city, as this article describes.

'We hope that our Judicial Review will mean that providers of well-run professional self-catering, who have caused neighbours no issues, will be able to gain planning permission and licences. Tarring all operators and guests with the same brush as bad operators and bad guests is not reflecting reality.

'Self-catering is the number one choice for Scots holidaying in Scotland. We want there to continue to be a freedom of choice for respectful guests in Edinburgh.'


A spokesperson for PLACE Edinburgh commented:—‘Many residents will be relieved to gain some sense of community again as more and more commercial short-term lets have been quietly returning to being homes again. We may even see tourist shops revert back to much needed shops for residents. 

‘During Covid it was apparent that city tenements with ghost hotels didn't have the neighbours that they needed to feel supported. With the Wild West days of Airbnbs coming to an end due to the recently passed licensing legislation, Airbnb owners are now forced to follow the law and to operate in the public gaze.

‘An incredible number of developments have been built in Edinburgh in the last five years for hotels and short-term-let/student blocks, while Edinburgh's residents were priced out of their communities, and homelessness increased.

‘This rebalancing of our communities will be welcomed by residents wanting to live in peaceful and liveable neighbourhoods.’

AirBnB lock-boxes