Scottish Government plans to license holiday lets will add needless workload to council staff who have seen a 3000 per cent increase in their case load since the start of the pandemic, officials have warned.
The controversial proposals were branded confusing and “control freakery” by West Lothian councillors.
And they have urged licensing lawyers to ask questions of the Scottish Government when they respond to the national consultation - including why legislation designed to tackle a problem in cities - where lets have caused very obvious problems - is needed in areas such as West Lothian.
Also among the questions was the clear definition of a “holiday let”, alongside the financial implications that definitions generate over whether properties qualify for council tax or commercial rates.
Gary McMullan, a licensing solicitor with the council, presented the draft response to the consultation at the council’s Environment Policy Development and Scrutiny Panel this week.
It outlined the size of the workload generated by changes needed to licensing laws because of covid regulations.
There is now a six-month backlog in applications going before the Licensing Board when historically there was none.
In her draft response, Audrey Watson, the council’s licensing solicitor, questioned why the proposed licensing should be mandatory rather than optional for local authorities.
She said: “The licensing schemes which are mandatory involve public safety issues such as knife dealer and skin piercing and tattooing licences but public safety is not likely to be a factor in most applications for short term let licences.”
The draft legislation is controversial.
It has been spurned by the groups that could help fashion it. At the last meeting of a working group of stakeholders set up to craft the legislation on August 4, members representing the Association of Scotland’s SelfCaterers, Airbnb, the Scottish B&B Association, and the UK Short Term Accommodation Association all resigned.
The trade bodies are opposed to the scheme and believe that if regulation is required it should be done by way of a registration scheme rather than a licensing scheme.
The legislation was triggered in response to growing problems in major cities, especially the capital, with holiday let accommodation and the problems caused by short term lets to neighbours.
One of the suggestions in the proposed legislation is a 20-metre consultation area for neighbours of a proposed short term let property. That would generate a mountain of paperwork, lawyers believe, to make the scheme unworkable.
Chairing the meeting, Councillor Tom Conn pointed out that there were just 51 self catering units registered in West Lothian.
He suggested that the legislation would create problems where there were none.
“There needs to be clarity about what a short term let is. If the council is making a submission we should also be asking questions,” he added.
Councillor Diane Calder said it was unclear how short term lets affect people in West Lothian compared to those in cities.
Councillor Chris Horne suggested that the draft consultation concentrated too much on the pressures imposed by the pandemic on the licensing department, and the current proposed legislation was “ at best confusing.”
“This process needs to be as simple as it can be. It needs to be easy for neighbours to understand what the process is, and it’s not clear.”
Fellow Conservative Alison Adamson branded the proposed legislation as a piece of “centralised control freakery.”
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