Planning matters blog | Lichfields

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Housing Land – How can NPF4 ensure the housing delivery that Scotland needs?
With the world and society in the midst of a paradigm shift in how we socialise, go about business or even go to the shops, planning reform in Scotland continues. The Scottish government’s consultation on NPF4 ended on 30 April with this being the first of the major changes arising out of last year’s Planning (Scotland) Act to start filtering through. Lichfields has prepared and submitted a response to the consultation, specifically focussing on its Housing Technical Discussion Paper. The Technical Paper sets out the Scottish government’s initial thoughts on how housing need and demand will be planned for as part of an enhanced NPF which will for the first time form part of the statutory development plan. With housing supply targets/housing land requirements now being set to be included within NPF instead of strategic development plans and/or local development plans, there are a host of considerations about how best to plan for housing. Building on our experience across Scotland as well as best practice from elsewhere in the UK, we’ve set out our suggestions, the key findings and recommendations of which include: Streamlining in the setting of housing land requirements is welcomed but must not come at the expense of robustness and transparency; The focus should be on outcomes, namely the delivery of homes, not simply land that homes could be built on; We must plan looking forward, based on need, demand and policy objectives, not past trends; Consistency in approach across Scotland will lead to greater transparency and efficiency both in formulation and scrutiny; Housing Land Audits should be standardised and include housing trajectories and monitoring of delivery with realistic programming for all sites included. Lichfields ‘Start to Finish’ research is a good starting point for understanding the length of time housing sites take to come forward; NPF must require that LDPs maintain a minimum 5 year supply of truly deliverable effective land for housing at all times – this will require ongoing monitoring during the 10 year plan cycles we’re moving toward with steps for mid-cycle intervention if necessary; Deliverable land must be identified for the entire plan period; Viability and marketability should play an enhanced role in considering the effectiveness of land for housing and its distribution around plan areas. We’re looking forward to seeing how this pans out and hope that the significant opportunity to shake up how we plan for and deliver housing is grasped.


To Airbnb or not to Airbnb... that is the question
The Scottish Government last week published its report Research into the impact of short-term lets on communities across Scotland. This paints a picture of the effects of home sharing/letting sites such as AirBnb on communities and economies in certain parts of Scotland. Focussing on Edinburgh, Glasgow for urban context and Skye and Fort William for rural, the report brings into sharp focus the economic benefits that are being experienced alongside disruptive impacts on communities and residential markets. In Edinburgh, pressure for visitor accommodation during its summer and winter festivals leads to hotel occupancy rates in excess of 90%. Airbnb can offer an often cheaper and more flexible alternative which may take some pressure off hotel stock, but also open up our city to new visitors who may otherwise not have visited. But these pressures are having a reported effect on the supply of housing and cost of rents. As at 25 September, there were 11,985 Airbnb listings in Edinburgh, 7,366 (65%) of which were entire properties. With around 30% occupancy it is evident that many of these cannot be permanent residences for Edinburgh’s population and must be full-time short-term lets. To put this into context, these figures represent 6% and 4% of the total no of privately owned dwellings in the city respectively. In Skye the report highlights that 18% of all residential dwellings on the island are available for short term let. This has nearly obliterated the private rented sector market, posing problems for existing residents, incoming key workers as well as workers in construction and tourism, industries which are expanding in response to the short term lets that they are hindered by. The findings of the consultation summarised in the report point toward consensus that regulation is required, but at this stage stops short of specific recommendations. It is interesting that planning controls are scarcely mentioned. So what might planning do? Earlier this summer, the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 introduced the ability for planning authorities to designate all or part of its area as a short-term let control area (STLCA). Within these areas, use of a dwelling for a short term let will constitute a material change of use and require planning permission (unless it is already someone’s principal residence or subject to private residential tenancy). It’ll be ok to let out your spare room on rugby weekends, or even your whole house while you’re on holiday, but buy a flat solely for the purpose of short-term lets and you’ll need planning permission. The change introduced by the Act does beg the question when is a change of use not a change of use? The answer will soon be, when it is outside a STLCA. It initially feels as though introduction of regulation such as this would sit better within the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO). Introduction into the GDPO would however result in a blanket approach across Scotland, adding unwelcome regulation in areas where the adverse effects of short-term lets are less prevalent and do not outweigh the economic benefits of increased tourism. This is a bit of a knotty problem.  At present, if it is considered that the introduction of a short term let use represents a material change then it can already be deemed to require planning permission. What constitutes a material change is undefined but can include a number of factors such as frequency of arrivals/departures, number of nights let or impact upon residential amenity. Each individual case must be assessed by the relevant planning authority and there are a growing number of instances where enforcement action has been taken by planning authorities resulting in refusal of planning permission and, in some cases, dismissal of appeals. While these have yet to be tested in the courts, it is evident that the power already exists to deal with problem cases. These case by case instances do not however address authority/city-wide issues of housing supply, or even community-wide impacts upon amenity and residential character arising as a result of multiple short term lets. This points toward a situation where STLCAs, if used across far reaching areas, such as a whole planning authorities, could in theory provide the control required. But, this would of course place a significant burden on planning departments through enforcing these controls and considering applications. Where budgets and resources are already stressed it may result in a reluctance to use these powers. It also raises questions as to what will happen in instances outwith STLCAs, where there has been or will be a material change. By making STLCAs optional and potentially over limited areas means that beyond them the default position will be as existing; demonstrating material change, but with the absence of a STLCA designation further blurring the lines. I suspect the 2019 Act will not be a silver bullet and the discussion will rage on. If you have a question about short term lets and Airbnb and the planning position please contact Gordon Thomson in our Edinburgh office.