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Short Term Lets Licence and fees for tourism businesses set out by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Legislation introduced by Scottish Government at the start of the year will require those renting out accommodation for short term lets to register their business with their Local Authority.
The legislation covers both those who rent out separate properties, and those who rent out part of their own home, so will cover traditional self catering as well as guest houses and B&Bs.
The Comhairle must have its new licensing scheme established by October of this year, and hosts will have until April 2023 to apply for a licence. The Comhairle must consider an application for a short term let licence within a period of six months of receiving the application, and determine the licence within 12 months.
Any short-term let licence granted by the Comhairle will be subject to mandatory conditions, which primarily cover safety, including overcrowding.
The Comhairle has been granted powers to charge fees for licence applications and monitoring, and to limit the number of accommodation lets operating in designated areas. The draft documents pertaining to the scheme set out a preferred ‘light touch approach, which will be reflected in lower licensing fees’. The draft fee scale ranges from £66 to £133 per annum, depending on the type of property and the number of guests.
Designated control zones have not been introduced at this stage, but the Comhairle has not ruled out that option, stating it will utilise the licensing scheme information to set baseline data to help identify and monitor any problem areas if considering future control zones.
The Comhairle estimates there are between 770 and 950 short term lets operating in the Western Isles, made up of 700 to 800 secondary letting premises and 70 to 100 B&Bs and guest houses, but recognises that the numbers may be higher than the available data suggests.
Outer Hebrides Tourism last ran a full visitor survey before the pandemic, when annual visitor numbers stood at 219,000, with an estimated £65m coming into the Western Isles, a quarter of which relates to Uist. The current total income is now expected to be well over £70million.
A Comhairle spokesperson said “Short-term lets are an important part of the tourism sector as well as providing vital accommodation for workers coming to the islands.”
The new Scheme has not gone down well with Tourism bodies. Sarah Maclean, CEO of Outer Hebrides Tourism, shared her concerns with Am Pàipear: “We are aware of the problems caused by unregulated lets in some mainland areas but we’re very clear that Short Term Lets Licensing is not right for the islands. Scottish Government is using a sledgehammer to break a nut. But with the legislation now in place we are focused on supporting our members to navigate its roll-out as best we can.”
Ms Maclean continued: “Tourism accounts for 10-15% of all economic activity on the islands and the proportion is higher in rural areas like Uist, where there are hundreds of small businesses relying on the additional income that short term lets bring. We recognise there are infrastructure issues but we believe this is not the way to resolve them.”
The Comhairle public consultation on the short term lets issue generated 230 responses, 70% of whom were host operators. Feedback is still being collated but the published comments included a wide range of views.

Rural Housing Scotland working on housing solution with Stòras Uibhist

Iain Stephen Morrison

Rural Housing Scotland is to lead on an ambitious new initiative to tackle the interlinked issues of depopulation, demographic change and the climate crisis through the establishment of innovative housing developments named ‘Smart Clachan’.

Smart Clachan are described as a modern interpretation of traditional island townships, consisting of a few houses and crofts, utilising community-led, cooperative housing models to create modern, affordable homes. Next to the houses there would be shared services and facilities, such as a community work hub, to enable householders to establish their own businesses or work remotely for local, national and international companies.

Rural Housing Scotland is working alongside community landowner Stòras Uibhist, which is providing sites for the development of ‘Smart Clachan’ on South Uist.

‘Smart Clachan’ are proposed for several locations and, if realised, could support repopulation through the provision of homes and workspaces that are affordable, cooperative, interconnected, sustainable and low carbon.

Young people have raised serious concerns about access to housing, in particular since the onset of the pandemic, warning there is a risk of an “economic clearance” from island communities as demand for houses increased in the aftermath of COVID-19. 

Interest in island properties has apparently soared in recent times, giving rise to the view that young people who live in the region are being outbid for houses and that an increase in the number of second homes is imminent, with a negative impact on efforts to retain population in areas like the Outer Hebrides. 

Rural housing Scotland aims to address this situation and, with funding secured from the Emsée Fairbairn foundation, working in partnership with Stòras Uibhist, will recruit a project manager to lead the delivery of ‘Smart Clachan’.

Darren Taylor, chief executive of Stòras Uibhist, commented: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Rural Housing Scotland. We are committed to playing our part in housing development and are encouraged by recent progress regarding the site at Rubha Bhuailt through the Scottish Government ‘Islands Housing Fund’. We continue to work hard to progress these complex projects to ensure the right outcome for the community.”

Derek Logie, chief executive of Rural Housing Scotland, added: “We are incredibly thrilled to be able to announce the support for Smart Clachan from Esmee Fairbairn. This builds on work funded by the Scottish Government to develop the initiative and we look forward to work starting on site to build this innovative project next year.”

“The grant will pay to employ an island-based project manager who will pull together the funding streams required to build the Smart Clachan. Stòras Uibhist has been invited to apply to the Scottish Government ‘Islands Housing Fund’ for a grant to build affordable housing and are investigating construction options, including modular housing developed by Modular West based on Barra.”

Work has started on the construction of fourteen new houses on Benbecula and South Uist

Iain Stephen Morrison

Fourteen new homes are now under construction, with ten to be built on Benbecula and a further four on South Uist.

Hebridean Housing Partnership said the development in Balivanich will include two one-bedroom houses, four two-bedroom properties and four houses with three bedrooms, while there will be two three-bedroom and two two-bedroom homes constructed at Howmore.

Calmax Construction Ltd is the contractor working on the Balivanich development, which is expected to be completed in early 2022, while MacInnes Bros Ltd is building the four new homes at Howmore, which are expected to be ready for tenants later in 2021.

Last year Hebridean Housing Partnership invited suggestions for names for the Balivanich development and settled on Johnstone Court, after the late Donald John Johnstone, a well known character from Benbecula.

Iain Macmillan, chairman of Hebridean Housing Partnership, commented: “Both the ten houses at Johnstone Court and four houses at Howmore, along with recent developments at Torlum and Garrynamonie, are part of the Hebridean Housing Partnership commitment to the delivery of the Strategic Housing Investment Plan, developed and agreed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and delivered in partnership with Hebridean Housing Partnership and Scottish Government.

“We recognise that the provision of social housing is one way of providing the homes required to ensure the sustainability of the islands and are happy to work with local and national partners to deliver what is needed.”

Mr MacMillan added that a further eight homes, currently in the planning process, are to be built in Lochmaddy.