Politics

SNP MSP Fergus Ewing labels his own government’s Airbnb crackdown plans ‘draconian’

AN SNP MSP has labelled his own government’s plans to crack down on Airbnb-style short-term lets as “draconian” as he pleaded with a minister to accept watered down plans for a registration scheme.

MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee voted in favour of recommending the Scottish Government’s updated plans to introduce a licensing scheme for short-term lets be approved.

Industry bodies have been angered by the plans – pointing to high costs and warnings it will force traders to close. Instead, businesses want a registration scheme to be brought forward instead – but SNP ministers have rejected that call.

Housing Minister Shona Robison said that the “self-regulatory registration scheme would not have the same requirements upon people to comply”.

READ MORE: SNP Government warned updated Airbnb crackdown plans will be ‘disastrous’ for economy

She added: “I think the powers that we are giving to local authorities beyond the core elements of the licensing scheme are also important.

“I think the licensing scheme strikes the right balance. All in all, I think this is a proportionate and balanced approach. I know elements of the sector think otherwise.”

Ms Robison said there had been an attempt at “compromise” with the sector.

But her SNP colleague, Fergus Ewing, claimed that “the fit and proper person test already applies to the existing landlord registration and rightly so”.

He said: “It does seem to me that that is already part of the registration scheme which applies to long lets and there’s absolutely no reason, therefore, why it shouldn’t be applied to a registration scheme for short lets.

“The fundamental difference between a licensing scheme and a notification scheme is very simple – Scotland’s local authorities will have the power to refuse a licence. That means the business will be terminated. Therefore, the difference is inherent and draconian.

“Tens of thousands of properties will now have some fear that their business will be confiscated – may be terminated.”

READ MORE: Scotland’s short term lets used for ‘drug-dealing, prostitution and puppy farming’

But Ms Robison said: “That is the whole point that If someone is not complying, that’s unfair and not a level playing field and therefore should have their licence refused on that basis.

“But those who are abiding have nothing to fear from the licensing system.”

Scottish Conservative local government and housing spokesperson, Miles Briggs, said Mr Ewing’s admission shows “that this licensing scheme for short-term lets is completely unworkable for small businesses across Scotland”.

He added: “It is very disappointing that SNP-Green Ministers have failed to consider the significant concerns or take forward the workable solution offered to deliver a registration scheme which would have met the policy outcomes. That is all too typical of the SNP Government’s attitude that they know best, even when rigorously challenged by one of their own colleagues.

“Small businesses and the tourism sector have been hammered by the pandemic and are continuing to deal with an ever-changing picture surrounding Covid. This scheme is the last thing they need at this time.

“It appears SNP ministers have learned nothing from key organisations quitting their working group in the summer and pressed on regardless. That is a complete slap in the face to businesses, who as Fergus Ewing highlighted, now face major anxiety over how their businesses will operate going forward.”

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