‘Planning’ magazine reports the Central London councils, including Westminster Council, have expressed alarm at government plans to remove planning restrictions on short-term holiday lets, arguing that the move will exacerbate the capital’s housing shortage and increase anti-social behaviour.
“Communities secretary Eric Pickles announced earlier this month that the Deregulation Bill would remove London-only restrictions on residential rentals of up to 90 days.
Section 25 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973 effectively makes holiday lets in the capital a use class that requires planning permission, setting the capital apart from other areas of the country. The rule was introduced in the 1970s in response to concerns that a proliferation of short-term lets was leading to a loss of community cohesion and reducing the number of permanent homes.
But Pickles said the rule was “archaic”, unevenly enforced across boroughs and Londoners should be able to profit from letting their homes during major sporting events.
Research by Planning shows that there have been just 35 appeals under the legislation in the last 30 years, of which three-quarters have been in Westminster.
John Walker, Westminster City Council’s operational director of development planning, said that short-term lets are a big problem in the borough and the removal of section 25 would make enforcement much more difficult.
The council receives a large number of complaints from residents due to the anti-social behaviour of people staying in short-term lets, Walker said, pointing out that many visitors to the borough come for the nightlife.
“People staying in short-term lets are up late at night, and we have had problems with them bringing prostitutes home. It’s not much fun if you’re bringing up a family and you have a drug dealer and a prostitute arguing outside,” he said.
The borough actively enforces breaches of section 25 with a team of eight enforcement officers working on around 1,000 cases a year, Walker said.
The problems arise from landlords illegally turning their homes into permanent short-term lets, he added, cashing in on rents that are around three times higher than they could gain from renting their homes to permanent residents.
Chris Turner, senior planning policy officer at the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, said Pickles had “missed the point” on short-term lets. He said the borough was flexible about people renting out their homes during events such as the Olympics. “Our concern is people buying up blocks and renting them out as short-term lets,” he said.
Peter Shadbolt, assistant director of planning policy at the City of London and a spokeswoman for the London Borough of Lambeth said both authorities resisted short-term lets because they did not want to lose permanent housing. The Lambeth spokeswoman said: “Demand for housing in Lambeth is at an all-time high and while we recognise the importance of tourism, it should not be at the cost of permanent homes for people, especially with the current housing pressures.”
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said the change aims to provide clarity on holiday lets. Some boroughs are encouraging residents to take in paying visitors, he added, while others are saying they would enforce against residents who did.
The DCLG aims to have the changes in place by April 2015 with further details to be announced “in due course”, the spokesman said.