Should we all just bide at home?

I was looking online recently for a holiday house in Sutherland and I started to get quite conflicted: I saw some houses that I remembered as working crofts or family homes and noticed that one owner could have 4 or 5 properties on the holiday rental market.  Is this a good thing?  Is this housing that’s surplus to requirements for local people?  Does it matter if the house owner is living in Germany or the south of England?

It’s fair enough I think if the house belongs to a crofter who’s diversifying or is  supplementing their income and the money earned from farming tourists stays in the local area.

Then I read “Smart Hosting” on Bella Caledonia about how Airbnb is causing a housing problem in some areas as a few folk are buying up properties which then become unavailable to local residents to buy or rent.  In Skye for example, there are 500 listings on Airbnb out of a total of some 5,000 homes on the island.


Over the last couple of tourist seasons, there have been numerous stories about how Skye has been ‘over run’ with tourists, causing problems for tourists themselves and for locals, stretching services to breaking point and threatening to remove some of the pleasure from visiting or living in such a beautiful place.

Edinburgh is another example.  According to Andy Wightman MSP, landlords there can earn more in a week from a short-term let than they could in a month for a longer term one; plus, they’ve got the right to evict tenants if they want to change to short-term letting.  Brian Gilmour, Director of Indigo Square, says that the owner of an Edinburgh rental flat which would normally bring in £700 a month can charge up to £500 a night during the Fringe  –  and get it.  The writer of “Smart Hosting” points out that it’s not only about taking properties “out of the reach of local people” but it’s also creating “anti-social mayhem” in certain communities.

There are about 11,000 Airbnb properties in Edinburgh but there’s at least one company who are part of the resistance: Places for People are banning the use of Airbnb or buying to let at their new development on Leith Walk – the Engine Shed.  There will be a clause written into the title deeds.

As far as the plethora of Edinburgh festivals are concerned, have a read of “The Disneyfication of Edinburgh”, also on Bella Caledonia.  Gordon Robertson from Marketing Edinburgh seems to think this would not be a bad thing as he has a lot of time for the Disney Corporation and he accuses his critics of wanting Edinburgh to be “preserved in aspic”.  Of course, he goes over the top to try to defend himself and his organisation, but I think he really does need to take more account of the folk living and working in the city who don’t want closed-off views, messy and noisy streets and lots of low-paid temporary jobs.

He wants to think about what’s happening in Venice and in Barcelona where the inhabitants have had just about enough of the effects of mass tourism on their cities.  Whatever it is the tourists have come to see, they’re helping to destroy it but what the answer is, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a tourist tax or a transient visitor levy as I’ve heard it called.  There’s to be consultation here in Scotland on whether councils should be given the power to introduce such a tax but it wouldn’t be in place till at least 2021.

There’s mention of the problem of homes being converted into holiday lets in the recent report from the Scottish Land Commission, set up by the Scottish Government.  It finds that overall some landowners have too much power over the way that land is used.  One thousand, one hundred and twenty five owners have control of 75% of rural land in Scotland – ten million acres.  In some areas, a small number of owners have an “irresponsible exercise of power” and this is causing “significant and long term damage to communities affected”.  There’s concern that if a landowner is criticised, this could result in eviction for the complainers.

The report also found that some owners had a positive impact and were making communities “more vibrant”; they were putting money into the local economy.  However, others were cutting the land available for tenant farmers or were using accommodation to get into the lucrative holiday house market.

Many of us have watched with horror the slaughter of mountain hares on ‘sporting’ estates and the widespread muirburn polluting the air in order to promote the rearing of grouse to be shot out of the sky for fun.

The report recommends a public interest test for future land sales and investigations into the abuse of power, both of which could result in compulsory purchase or a community buyout.  I hope the Scottish Greens will keep up their pressure on the Scottish Government – more power to Andy Wightman’s elbow!  Calum Macleod from Community Land Scotland is in favour of public interest arguments; he wants land owned and used for the common good.

Future legislation will come too late for a case in East Sutherland involving family members where ancient woodland is being sold off by the landowner for housing development in a crofting township.  She’s already sold off pieces of land for development – and her own profit, altering the character of the area and putting more strain on the fragile road system.  The local plan is in favour of more housing in existing residential areas, rather than isolated development in the countryside but she got permission for the last four houses she wanted to build.  We’re waiting to hear if the objections are upheld this time.

And the holiday home?  Yes, I’ve booked it.



2 thoughts on “Should we all just bide at home?

  1. Pingback: The Hurts in the Highlands – Splendid, Bella!

  2. Pingback: A mixter-maxter – Splendid, Bella!

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