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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2017

Agenda: Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Junior Minister, Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Homes First


Contents


Homes First

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08370, in the name of Andy Wightman, on the homes first campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes what it understands as the anxiety being expressed by communities over the rapid growth in entire homes being let for short-term occupancy across urban and rural Scotland and the view that this should not be at the expense of people in housing need nor compromise the peaceful enjoyment of people’s homes; believes that this issue is long-standing in parts of the Highlands and the south-west and that this form of letting is now increasingly displacing residential communities in Edinburgh and across Lothian; notes reports of distress being felt by residents, particularly in communal property in the centre of the capital; acknowledges the recently-launched Homes First campaign, and notes the calls for all parties to urgently bring forward planning, fiscal or regulatory measures to enable local government to provide effective controls over the change of use of residential property to short-term let property.

17:05  

I thank members from all parties who have signed my motion and turned up this evening to contribute to the debate. I welcome those in the public gallery, many of whom live every day of their lives with the impact of short-term lets. I hope that the debate will bring them assurance that Parliament is willing to tackle the issue with some urgency.

My motion highlights an issue that is of significant concern to large numbers of my constituents, and it is on their behalf that I speak today. The motion is not about the collaborative economy, in which people rent out a room in their house on a peer-to-peer platform, and it is not about the platforms themselves. It is about the framework in which decisions are made—or, currently, not made—about the existence, extent, scope and nature of the use of residential properties in their entirety as short-term letting businesses.

Short-term letting has a long history and I am sure that many members have hired a self-catering property in rural Scotland, for example, for holidays. In rural Scotland, such properties form an important part of the tourism economy and provide valuable income for local businesses. However, in most cases, such properties are detached dwellings that have planning consent for use as a self-catering property. Nevertheless, even in rural Scotland, there remain issues to be resolved about the extent of second homes and short-term lets in areas of acute housing need.

It is in Edinburgh that the phenomenon has taken off and where the implications of that unregulated market are causing severe distress that affects the quality of life of my constituents. The implications include antisocial behaviour in communal areas; a loss of community as speculators buy up properties and turn them into short-term lets; mental ill health, including anxiety and stress, that is associated with not knowing who is coming and going; the displacement of the residential population when homes are acquired as lucrative short-term lets and residents who remain are left to decide whether to stay; a tax gap, as thousands of properties are not on the valuation roll and their owners do not pay non-domestic rates; and concerns about security, as keys are distributed to hundreds of unknown people every year, allowing access to residential areas.

On one online advertising website, there are 5,474 whole properties that are available for let in the city of Edinburgh, which is almost double the number that was available in July last year. That is despite a City of Edinburgh Council presumption in planning against any short-term lets in flatted properties. Thousands exist. It is also despite thousands of domestic dwellings having conditions in their title deeds that restrict the use of property to a main home and that prohibit any business use. Thousands of owners are flouting those conditions with no redress available to affected neighbours. Due to owners not declaring their properties and because of the 100 per cent relief that is granted through the small business bonus scheme, a tax system that is meant to ensure the payment of non-domestic rates to support the provision of public services in the city is failing to collect more than £10 million.

I reiterate that the mischief that is complained about here is not that of homeowners renting out rooms as part of the collaborative economy; it is the situation whereby changes of use for residential property are taking place with no democratic scrutiny or accountability, and where properties are being marketed to tourists despite those properties not complying with the law. It is a situation that is causing a degree of stress and misery that should not be tolerated, and that causes, for example, a school pupil to fail her exam because of lack of sleep due to an unannounced party held by strangers in the flat above her bedroom.

I have other testimony, which is as follows:

“We have lost a neighbour and gained an endless stream of strangers”;

“Cheap holiday lets come at a very high price for people living next door to them”;

“What was our neighbour’s house is now a ‘hotel’ with no planning permission, no safety regulations and no regard for families living next door”;

and,

“I am leaving the Old Town, my home for the past 25 years. I have sold my flat and I am moving out in January. I have nothing but feelings of utter contempt for the selfish and irresponsible people that have done this. And the Council have been both complicit and complacent, presiding over an increasingly dire situation only interested, it seems, in turning the city centre into a transit camp”.

For the record, those are some of the very large number of testimonies that we have received over the past few months.

The motion is called “Homes First”, which is the name of a campaign that I launched yesterday to tackle this scourge. “Homes First” means what it says. There is an affordable housing crisis in the city of Edinburgh, and what residential accommodation exists should be used to provide homes for residents in the first instance. Only through a careful and considered process in the planning system should any short-term letting of whole properties on a commercial basis be allowed. The human rights of my constituents to housing and to the peaceful enjoyment of their property are being violated by the rapid and uncontrolled expansion of short-term lets.

One constituent recently observed to me that three key factors have led to the rapid growth of the market that we are discussing: cheap flights, online accommodation platforms and wheelie suitcases. Before the close of the debate, members could, if they so wished, easily book a short break in Madrid, Paris or Berlin from their mobile phone or tablet device. Although that has created unprecedented freedom for some, it has caused untold misery for others.

To resolve the matter, we need to recognise two distinct issues. The first is how we give councils the powers to effectively decide the appropriate scale, location and scope of short-term lets. That is a first-order question of how property is used, which is normally addressed by the planning system—in particular, the land use class order system. It is a first-order question whether short-term lets should even exist in any given location.

The second issue is how we effectively regulate the operation of any short-term letting system and how we manage the impacts of it. That is a second-order question that needs to be addressed once we have dealt with the first question, because the resolution of that question does not, in itself, resolve the core issue, which is where and in what circumstances a change of use from a domestic dwelling to a commercial short-term letting business should be allowed.

A modern-day clearance is under way, as long-established communities are torn asunder in the face of global market forces. Across the rest of Scotland, too, change is under way in towns and rural communities as the new wave of cheap travel disrupts local housing markets.

As I said at the outset, the motion and the campaign are not about the collaborative economy; they are about the exploitative economy. I urge the Scottish Government to wake up to the need for action to tackle the issue before it is too late and to listen to the concerns of residents whose lives are made intolerable by a market that is out of control and a system of regulation that permits widespread illegality.

I ask the people who are observing the debate from the gallery not to holler, clap or boo.

17:13  

I commend Andy Wightman for bringing the matter to the chamber for debate. It is one on which, as the MSP for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, I, too, have received concerning correspondence from constituents, including constituents in the Abbeyhill colonies, not too far from this Parliament. People have spoken about all the aspects that Mr Wightman highlighted, including increase in noise, disruption at different times of the day, strangers turning up and damage to community. Although our experience and the responses that we have had from constituents might be anecdotal, it is clear that there is a trend, particularly in Edinburgh, whereby the situation that the motion addresses, and the antisocial behaviour and disruption that are associated with it, are causing great concern for the affected individuals and communities. The issue will be particularly pertinent to constituents who are watching the debate.

Over the past months, I have sought to take action on the issue, as Mr Wightman has done. I agree with the general consensus that action needs to be taken, and I have been in correspondence with Scottish Government colleagues, including the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, and the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Kevin Stewart, as well as with colleagues in the City of Edinburgh Council.

What is clear is that we need to put some considerable and purposeful thinking into whether any action can be taken through existing laws or whether any change or new initiative is required. However, my strong view is that that must happen on the basis of robust empirical evidence and consideration to ensure that any new initiatives are robust and effective.

I welcome Ben Macpherson’s support for my motion. He has mentioned the need for reliable information and so on, but does he not accept that the voluminous testimony that I have received is, if not statistically verifiable, sufficient as evidence to suggest that change is needed in the way that properties are used as short-term letting businesses?

I sympathise with the member’s position, but we need to work with government at local authority level here in Edinburgh and at national level to ensure that we act on empirical evidence. That is why I have written to the minister Kevin Stewart and City of Edinburgh Council colleagues to inquire where they are in the process of gathering evidence on this matter and what actions they are considering. We also await the findings of the advisory panel on the collaborative economy.

Call it semantics, but I was not able to support the motion as drafted because it did not refer to the need to gather evidence. However, I absolutely agree with its sentiments and the fact that this is a huge concern for many constituents here in Edinburgh and elsewhere. I commend Andy Wightman for bringing this debate to the chamber, and I look forward to working with him, the Scottish Government and local government in Edinburgh on tackling this issue for the benefit of the communities and individual constituents who are being negatively affected.

17:17  

I, too, thank Andy Wightman for bringing this issue to Parliament. His motion raises important issues, particularly here in Edinburgh. I do not disagree with him when he says that anxiety and distress are being caused to some residents as a result of properties being let out short term, and I felt that he was very eloquent in spelling out the situation.

However, I must urge a degree of caution, because the danger with such issues is that we have a knee-jerk reaction before knowing the full picture. We should not be complacent, but we need some balance. Tourism is vital to the Scottish economy; according to the Scottish Government, spending by tourists in Scotland generates around £12 billion of economic activity for the wider Scottish supply chain and contributes around £6 billion to Scottish gross domestic product.

Short-term lets are part of that important economy. In addition to supporting more than 15,000 jobs, self-catering attracts £723 million in consumer spending, £470 million of which is spent by visitors to Scotland. In Edinburgh and the Lothians alone, self-catering supports more than 2,500 jobs and brings nearly £50 million into the capital. Indeed, the headline objective of “Edinburgh 2020”, Edinburgh’s tourism strategy, is to increase the number of visits to the city by a third.

Does the member accept that one of the local authority’s major obligations is to house its population?

I was just about to come on to talk about the council.

With regard to Edinburgh, there are officially nearly 1,300 self-catering units on the Lothian roll. Those units are let for more than 140 days a year, and I accept that they are not the ones that Andy Wightman is talking about. They can be seen as commercial enterprises.

I am a keen user of self-catering properties. I have stayed in them throughout Scotland and Europe and elsewhere.

The motion states that residents are displaced when properties are rented out in the short term. That rather states the obvious. As I have said, tourism is vital wherever we go, not just in Edinburgh.

Will the member take an intervention?

I have taken one intervention and I do not really have time to take another, unless I am allowed more time.

You are.

I am sure that, if Graham Simpson was faced with a constituent who had been affected by antisocial behaviour in a community, he would call for greater support and greater interventions from the police. When such antisocial behaviour is happening in tenements and flatted properties, does he not understand the need for greater regulation to deal with the new phenomenon that we are discussing?

I am rather minded to agree with Ben Macpherson that we need to get the full picture and know the facts before we rush to regulation. Regulation may well be necessary, but we need to know the facts and figures.

Concerns have been raised at the Scottish Government’s panel on the collaborative economy about the validity of some of the scraped data that has been produced. The discussion paper from the panel’s June meeting recognised that some of the data from third-party websites was “open to dispute”.

We need to work with Airbnb and others to get things right. It is right to raise issues that affect communities, but solutions can often be found through dialogue rather than regulation. We need to avoid harming the tourism industry but, if there is an issue, let us get the facts first. If we then need to regulate, we should do so.

17:22  

I want to make just a short contribution.

I am mindful of Andy Wightman’s opening remarks about the motion being specific, but I hope that he will not mind if I speak to the issue and to a related issue that is pertinent.

Andy Wightman has made a really good case for action and regulation based on the homes first campaign and the situation in Edinburgh, which he has outlined. I cannot say for sure whether there is any comparison between the situations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but Patrick Harvie and I have had representations from Glasgow city centre residents who similarly feel that the proliferation and combination of short-term leases and speculative buying for short-term leases and letting on Airbnb are interrupting people’s peaceful enjoyment of their properties.

What concerns me—this is where I think that there is a similarity between Edinburgh and Glasgow—is that, although no one wants to prevent the economy from booming and people from taking advantage of global platforms and cheaper opportunities to use properties while they are staying in a city, communities should be protected. There has been a rise of 184 per cent in listings on global platforms such as Airbnb. It is important that 56 per cent of those listings in Glasgow are entire home rentals. There is a similar impact in Glasgow in that people feel that there is no security where they live because so many people come to and go from their tenement homes or flats, and people do not always take responsibility. In many cases, there is definitely evidence of antisocial behaviour.

A range of issues to do with short-term leases and Airbnb needs to be looked at to see whether further regulation is needed to protect communities. There is no doubt that the balance has been interrupted in some cases. If we encourage people to live in city centres, they are entitled to be treated as a community. The Government and local authorities need to protect people who choose to live in city centres. If that means that we need to consider a little bit of regulation, that is what we should do.

17:24  

I, too, thank my colleague Andy Wightman for bringing this important topic to the chamber for debate. His speech had his usual blend of forensic analysis and passion for change.

At the heart of the debate there is a question about what kind of communities we are trying to create; it is about the art of place making and whether councils have the right tools to make our places sustainable. Why do we want to visit beautiful places as tourists in the first place? We visit them because they are authentic and because we can share a moment in time, feeling what it is like to be a part of a community and its culture. However, when we undermine the very qualities that draw us to visit communities in the first place, we need to step back and question the market forces that are at play.

I went to Cornwall this summer with my children and we greatly enjoyed playing in fishing villages along the coast. However, the children kept asking what the black boxes with combination locks on every single door were for. There was a creeping sense that the authenticity of many places was being hollowed out by near universal short-term letting of residential properties. When I wander around east neuk fishing villages, I see the little black key boxes steadily increasing there. Fife has the second-highest number of self-catering properties in Scotland, which is a good indicator of a growing tourism economy, but we need to be mindful of striking a balance.

There is not a right or a wrong answer here, It is about careful judgment, but we need to understand first how big the short-term letting sector is and what it brings to communities in terms of benefits and disbenefits. We then need to have the right tools to mould the growth of the sector in a way that does not compromise residents’ quality of life. We must also ensure that the sector makes a fair contribution to the local economy.

Does Mark Ruskell agree with Ben Macpherson and me that we need to establish the scale of the problem before deciding on any action?

The best way to establish the scale of the problem is to give councils the right regulatory powers. If we gave powers to councils under land-use classes, that would force investigations as well as conversations in communities about the impacts of the short-term letting sector, both positive and negative. We should therefore start with giving councils those powers.

In the east neuk alone, 500 self-catering properties are registered with the assessor that are eligible for rates relief, most of which do not pay council tax either. Through non-domestic rates relief alone, that equates to £0.5 million lost in tax revenue every year. Alongside that, there is the informal, unregistered short-term letting sector in the east neuk, which uses online platforms and could be bigger than the registered sector. That combined loss of public revenue amounts to a sum that could otherwise be spent on, for example, reopening the St Andrews rail route, which would bring huge benefits to visitors, the tourism economy and locals alike.

I agree that there needs to be a more detailed local conversation about the impact of the short-term letting sector on housing availability and quality of life. However, in order to get there, we need to give councils the powers under planning use class orders. Such a move would put short-term letting on to a better, spatially planned footing that made it transparent and accountable while recognising the positive economic impact that it can have.

Councils already exercise powers to cap the number of houses in multiple occupancy in student areas, for example. I would argue that that move is far more controversial than any cap on short-term lets, because students are in genuine housing need and are members of communities rather than just weekend visitors. Likewise, on alcohol licensing, boards can consider policies on overprovision and limit licences. If we are prejudicing public safety in an area through overprovision of alcohol sales, licences can be declined according to lines on a map. Therefore, councils routinely make decisions to allow the economy to grow in a way that does not undermine the fabric of communities and their needs.

If we want to protect our communities as authentic and beautiful places both to live in and to visit, we need to heed the concerns in Andy Wightman’s motion and give councils the powers to get the balance right.

17:29  

I refer to my interest as a registered landlord within the Lothian region that I represent, although I am not engaged in the short-term letting market.

I have lived in flats in this great city of Edinburgh on and off for many years and have personal experience of the irresponsible behaviour that others sometimes engage in: loud noise at late hours of the night, rubbish left in stairwells, lack of respect for fellow residents and other antisocial behaviour to which Andy Wightman has already referred. It can be both frustrating and, at times, life destroying for those who suffer from it. Of course, such behaviour is not limited to those who stay for only a night or two, but I think that it is fair to say that a very different relationship comes to exist between long-term residents and those others who may pass like ships in the night.

In my view, one of the most important aspects of democracy is for members of the public to exercise their right to contact their elected representatives. I thank all those who have written to me about this issue since I was elected, from places as far apart as Marchmont, Bruntsfield, Merchiston and South Queensferry. As Andy Wightman pointed out, issues raised by short-term lets are not new, but because I recognise their importance I am happy to support his motion, which raises awareness of them here in Parliament and more widely.

Positive points should, of course, be made. Edinburgh and Scotland are very successful tourist destinations. Short-term lets are a lucrative business in Edinburgh and a testament to the popularity of our city for tourism, but we need to strike a better balance between Edinburgh’s popularity and the sometimes unwanted consequences of that success. Many residents feel a loss of the sense of community. Relationships that are built up over time in a stairwell of flats, for example, are something that they used to cherish, but now can only crave. Short-term tenants are not around for long and little, if any, relationship can be built up.

Ideas about how we can overcome those problems have been generated. For example, the Government’s expert advisory panel on the collaborative economy may provide insight into how policymakers can overcome some of the social problems that we have talked about. Government, Parliament and stakeholders should work together to enable informed decisions to be made that address the concerns without shutting down the short-term letting market altogether.

Overregulation could have that effect. Making it harder for hosts to navigate red tape could have an impact on economic activity—an estimated £500 million of economic activity was generated in the past year by hosts and guests. Council budgets are continually stretched. Are they ready to take on the administrative role of dealing with a new use class order, for example, and short-term let planning applications? Those are just some of the questions that we need to think about in relation to the issue.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am just closing.

We should respond to the problem, but we should guard against overreaction, overregulation or anything that would be mere window dressing involving measures that sound good but do not have the desired effect.

17:33  

I offer the obligatory thanks to Andy Wightman for securing the debate and, to go a bit further, commend him for an excellent and very thorough piece of work that demands plaudits in its own right. Specifically, I note how forensic it is with regard to the need to look at change of use and how we can better regulate short-term lets across Edinburgh and, indeed, Scotland.

It is worth taking a moment to consider how the Parliament has addressed such issues before. I have been involved in housing issues in Edinburgh for 10 or 15 years now, since the days when I was a student activist supporting the student community in houses in multiple occupation.

A piece of legislation that was intended to improve the standard of housing was, for a time, used against young professionals and students in Edinburgh by using the idea of quotas, which the Liberal Democrats were proposing at the time in order to limit the density of HMOs in certain communities. The idea had its merits, but it was not going to tackle the underlying problems. The debate then morphed into one on party flats in the city. In the previous session of Parliament, Sarah Boyack did a lot of work on party flats in the Grove Street area and the south side of the city.

I mention those approaches to housing issues because what we need is a legal system that is light on its feet—light and agile enough to adapt to new and growing circumstances. We could not have anticipated Airbnb when we passed the HMO legislation a few years ago. It is important that we revisit such laws and consider whether they are fitting for the time.

All the contributions that I have heard from those who are not favourable towards Andy’s proposals mention data scraping, which filters through the briefing papers that we have had from Airbnb and the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers, which are against any further regulation. I suggest to Graham Simpson and others that the people who are arguing against data scraping perhaps have a vested interest in it.

It is clear to me that there are merits in having quality empirical evidence—we all support that—but the idea that Airbnb might not like us making our own assessment of how many properties are available in Edinburgh demands greater scrutiny. It is a bit like asking airports to be responsible for their own carbon emissions or—dare I say it—asking Tories to be responsible for their own tax returns. We need independent analysis of the data, but let us not discount what we can see before us. If we spend five minutes on the Airbnb website, for example—I know that other companies are available—we can see the litany of properties across Edinburgh that are available for short-term rent.

Will the member give way?

I will make a bit more progress and then let the member in, because he was kind enough to let me in. Let me establish the point and then I will give way.

If we look at the website, we can see that there are brand-new properties, often with wooden floors that should not be there—building regulations have been ignored—so that there will be continual problems with noise. Likewise, there are lots of older properties in tenement buildings, which have their own culture around stair management, which people who visit for one or three days will not be aware of. That is why the issues about community are so important.

There has to be a bit of give and take and people have to compromise when they live at such close quarters, but the problem is the introduction of profit into the notion of community. I will develop that point a bit further after I have taken Graham Simpson’s intervention, if he still wants to make one.

You do not have much longer, Ms Dugdale.

I will speak very fast.

Thank you. I will be really quick.

I am confused by what the member is saying about data. Does she agree that we should have accurate data or is she happy with data scraping?

I will give you another minute, Ms Dugdale.

Thank you. That is appreciated.

Of course I want accurate data, but the member has not demonstrated that what has been put before him is in any way inaccurate. His only evidence is from the vested interests involved. I do not think that it is a black and white scenario.

The point that I wanted to make is about profit. I am grateful to Andy Wightman for identifying the fact that people using Airbnb and other companies are not paying non-domestic rates. There is a wider issue about tax here, too. It was George Osborne who said that people could earn additional money from Airbnb without paying any income tax—in fact, they can earn up to £7,500 through letting out a room or indeed the whole property that they own. That needs to be addressed.

Furthermore, had we given local authorities the power over a tourist tax, we might be able to apply that to people who are participating in this type of letting.

I turn finally to the proposal that Andy is putting forward. He makes arguments about how we could use class orders to better regulate the system. I tried that when we had a debate in the previous parliamentary session about the proliferation of pay-day loan shops. I tried to introduce a new class order system then so that we could treat those applications differently from other retail use, but I found it immensely difficult. I would like very much to discuss that further with the member, either in the chamber or beyond it. I wish him well. His proposal is excellent and it has the support of a vast number of constituents who have contacted me. I will do anything that I can to support Andy Wightman’s proposals as they go forward.

I remind members that, even in members’ business debates, it would be helpful if they could use colleagues’ full names. That helps the official report and brings clarity to those who might be listening in.

17:38  

I thank Andy Wightman for bringing this debate to the chamber and I welcome the opportunity to close the debate for the Government.

The debate has raised a number of serious issues that merit discussion. None of us wants to see a situation in which an increase in short-term lets leads to displacement of residents or the erosion of communities. Accessibility to and ease of technology have led to the increase in on-line platforms that have made it much easier for individuals to market their accommodation. That has broadened the type of accommodation that is available for visitors to Scotland and elsewhere around the world. That new model of tourist accommodation is now an established part of the overall short-term-let offering that is provided online and offline.

However, we must be aware of the downsides to the growth in short-term lets that we have heard about today and previously, which give rise to concern. I take the matter very seriously, as a member who represents a city-centre seat. Antisocial behaviour, noise nuisance, loss of the sense of community, loss of amenity in areas and other potential negative impacts on the fabric of our towns have all been discussed in the debate.

Local authorities have quite comprehensive powers to deal with antisocial behaviour and noise nuisance; I expect them to use those powers effectively. As recently as 2011, Parliament agreed to the Antisocial Behaviour Notices (Houses Used for Holiday Purposes) (Scotland) Order 2011. I wonder how often that order is being used in Edinburgh and elsewhere, so I challenge local authorities to consider using it and other antisocial behaviour powers, as well as the powers in relation to noise and environmental health that are currently at their disposal. I urge local authorities to use those powers to deal with some of the difficulties that folk are facing.

That is a welcome point, but does the minister recognise that the powers that he is talking about can be actively used only if they are properly resourced? Historically, in Edinburgh we have had antisocial behaviour teams and a noise hotline—indeed, we had wardens to address such issues. All those have gone, as a result of cuts to local authorities, and because they were not statutory requirements they were among the first things to go. Surely we need resources if we are actively to use the law.

Local authorities are responsible for their use of resources and must respond to their residents. As members have said, the issue affects many people in Edinburgh, so I ask the City of Edinburgh Council to look carefully at what it is doing in that regard.

I accept what the minister is saying, but the problem with short-term lets is that often by the time a resident has phoned the council and a council officer has visited, the visitor has gone, or will go the next day. The next week, another issue arises and the resident phones the council, but by the time the council officer comes, the visitor has gone. The powers are valuable, but they are not particularly helpful in a market that is expanding so rapidly.

The powers may not be being applied properly, which might be the difficulty in all this. I will certainly discuss the matter with the City of Edinburgh Council, because under the order that I mentioned, the antisocial behaviour notice is served not on the people in the property who are causing the problem but on the landlord. That is extremely important. Folk having left a property should not affect in any way, shape or form the serving of a notice on the landlord.

The issues to do with short-term lets are complex, so we need to understand them properly if we are to put in place effective measures to tackle problems. That is why the Government commissioned research on short-term lets earlier this year. It is also why we asked the Scottish expert advisory panel on the collaborative economy to consider the impact of growth in peer-to-peer accommodation through collaborative online platforms. The expert advisory panel is considering not just the contribution to Scotland’s economy and the opportunities that are presented, but the regulatory, economic and social challenges that arise. The panel is chaired by Helen Goulden of the Young Foundation, and will ensure that the wider economic, social and community impacts of the collaborative economy, including in respect of taxation, social inclusion and employment conditions, are taken into account.

Will the minister give way?

I shall give way briefly.

I am grateful. Does the minister accept that the panel’s remit is the collaborative peer-to-peer economy, whereby someone rents a room in their flat to someone who is visiting the city, which is not the focus of my concern, as I made clear in my speech? The focus of my concern is the practice of converting whole residential properties to short-term lets for commercial use. That is not the collaborative economy; it is the exploitative economy.

I understand exactly where Mr Wightman is coming from, but the work needs to go forward. I will look at other evidence, too. Mr Wightman knows that I am a pragmatic man when it comes to certain things, but it is very important that we see the findings from the panel, which is looking not just at urban settings, but at rural settings, too. I see that members from rural constituencies are in the chamber. Airbnb and other such platforms are vital to the survival of the tourist industry in some parts of Scotland, so we must get the balance absolutely right. I look forward to the panel’s findings.

The Government recognises the intrinsic links between building housing and inclusive growth, and between providing warm and affordable homes and tackling inequalities and poverty. Increasing housing supply across all housing tenures is a priority for the Government. We are investing more than £3 billion during this session of Parliament to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes. As well as working towards that bold and ambitious target, we are working to increase the supply of homes through our wide-ranging review of the planning system, in order to improve its effectiveness.

There is no doubt that the increase in the use of whole properties in cities and in rural areas for short-term lets is a direct response to our thriving tourism industry. Just a few months ago, “Rough Guide” readers voted Scotland the most beautiful country in the world. In 2016, we welcomed 2.7 million overseas visitors and 11.5 million domestic visitors to our cities and to our unique countryside. Tourism generates £11 billion of economic activity, and supports 217,000 jobs across the country, including 34,600 jobs here in Edinburgh.

We need to take account of the tourism-related industries and their importance to this city and throughout Scotland. Scotland’s economy benefits hugely from tourism, but that should not be at the expense of communities. I will say that again: tourism should not be at the expense of communities. We need to find a way to continue to welcome visitors to our beautiful country, and to offer them safe good-quality accommodation while ensuring that local residents can continue to live and work in our town centres and rural communities.

The Scottish expert panel on the collaborative economy will report to ministers at the end of the year. I am sure that we will all be interested in its conclusions and will want to consider carefully what planning, fiscal or regulatory measures would enable local government to provide effective controls over the change of use of residential properties to short-term-let properties.

Meeting closed at 17:47.