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Friday, February 21, 2020

A new threat to community cohesion?

Those of us who have been in politics for some time will recall the battles of old around maintaining sustainable communities in the face of the growth of second homes in rural holiday hotspots, long-term empty properties and HMOs, especially in university towns. However, as the Guardian outlines in this article, there is a new threat in town and one that so far has alluded any attempt at control or regulation by local councils or government.

The paper reports that Airbnb has become so prevalent in Great Britain that some parts of the country now have one listing for every four properties, prompting concern that the rapid expansion in short-term lets is “out of control” and depriving communities of much-needed homes:

Exclusive analysis by the Guardian identified Airbnb hotspots in both rural areas and inner-city neighbourhoods, where the ratio of active Airbnb listings to homes was more than 20 times higher than the average across England, Scotland and Wales.

The highest incidence of Airbnbs was in Edinburgh Old Town, where there were 29 active listings for every 100 properties.

The north-west of Skye had the second-highest concentration, at 25 listings per 100 properties, including a seafront bothy (£50 a night), a modern cottage clad in corrugated tin (£190) and an isolated cottage with ocean and mountain views (£160).

In England, the area with the highest rate of Airbnb lets was Woolacombe, Georgeham and Croyde, in Devon, with 23 listings for every 100 properties.

In one area of the Lake District: Windermere North, Ambleside and Langdales, there were 19 listings per 100 properties. Local MP Tim Farron described the growth of Airbnb in an area already dominated by second home owners as “a really disturbing issue”.

Here in Wales, I have long argued that there needs to be a national empty homes strategy to bring long-term neglected properties back into use, that HMOs should be classed as a business for taxation purposes to deal with the anomaly whereby students in these properties use local services with no contribution being made to their cost, and that second homes should pay a council tax premium to discourage them and to compensate the community for their impact.

Many of these battles have been won - most councils now have an empty homes officer and the ability to hike council tax rates for empty and second homes. However, the HMO taxation issue remains unresolved, while a number of owners are dodging 200% council taxes on their holiday lets by reclassifying them as a business.

With this new threat to communities of a growing Airbnb market, government needs to carry out a review of its planning and housing policies to ensure they encourage sustainable communities, and that where a property is being used other than as a home, then appropriate recompense is being made through the taxation system.
2nd homes should be banned or, if possible, converted into B and Bs which then can be classed as a business. Failing that the 2nd homes should be sold to people in the area or even used as social housing. Some properties are big enough to be converted into 2 homes for social housing.
Equally by banning 2nd homes existing B and Bs and Hotels can be used for holiday makers.These can give employment to the local area and as they can be used 52 weeks of the year could boost the local economy. That is a difference with 2nd homes that can lay idle for 50 weeks in the year.
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