Autumn Conference 2023

Motion #17

Use Planning Powers to Limit Conversion of Homes into Short-Term Lets

Motion not debated

Use planning powers to limit conversion of people’s homes into short-term accommodation (a.k.a. Just Stop Airbnb)

The UK government has recently consulted the tourism industry and other groups on the potential introduction of a planning use class for short term lets and associated permitted development rights:

The result of the proposed C5 use class will be that whole residential properties including homes for rent, currently in the C3 class, will be altered via a simple change of use application, with a small fee paid to the relevant local authority, to become lawful short-term lets on a near-permanent basis. This appears to be the preferred solution of commercial operators including Airbnb, which would be expected to benefit from reduced legal uncertainty around enforcement of planning controls on short-term letting.

I believe the proposed C5 use class will further reduce the housing stock available for long-term let to local residents, particularly in city centres and tourism destinations, including rural and coastal areas of the UK. The financial incentives for landlords to rent out property for short periods at a higher weekly rate are strong. If we are to preserve more long-term homes for people, the planning system will need to be used to direct tourism and short-term lets towards purpose-built accommodation, rather than subtract from the available stock of residential property.

My proposal is that instead of supporting the Government’s proposed C5 use class, short-term lets of C3 use class residential property should be considered by Green local authorities as ‘sui generis’, a Latin term in planning law which means ‘in a class of its own’. The suggested approach would be similar to that currently used for hostels and other potentially anti-social planning uses which are deprived of a standard planning use class and many permitted development rights because of the problems they can cause in local communities.

Rather than reward multinational short-let operators of the likes of Airbnb with a special C5 use class and new permitted development rights which would legitimise their business model, I propose that short-term lets in C3 residential property would be treated as a nuisance which deprives people of long-term homes. As planning enforcement is non-statutory, making it optional for local authorities, there is scope for Green councillors to encourage enforcement officers to pursue ‘unauthorised change of use’ prosecutions of short-term let landlords when housing is being lost to the local community. There is public money to be saved if fewer local people are made homeless by landlords switching to short-term letting.

You might have heard that the C5 use class will enable local authorities to limit the spread of short-term lets, but I do not believe this to be the case. Firstly, no local authority I know of has a policy against tourism, and many local plans are out of date. If a landlord is refused change of use to the new C5 use class, they will be able to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and win permission for change of use that way, on the basis that tourism provides known economic benefits. It could take local plans a decade to catch up, by which time there could be hundreds of thousands of homes converted to the C5 use class, with no financial incentive for landlords to go back to C3.

Secondly, we know that existing enforcement of short-term lets, effectively hostel use in C3 dwellings, is weak, which is why there are so many short-term landlords now. There is no reason to believe that introducing the C5 use class will lead to greater enforcement of unauthorised short-term lets by itself, and it could actively undermine the rationale for enforcement since the C5 class would be legitimised.

In my opinion, the Green Party should take a distinctive position on this issue, and defend the right of people on lower incomes to have secure, long-term rental homes in their own communities. We know that the social rent sector is unable to provide enough housing for the people who need it, and that will be the case for years to come whatever local councils and other social rent providers manage to build in the future.

Please note, this proposal is not designed to stop people renting out rooms for extra income, just the conversion of whole C3 residential properties to C5 use and the eviction of long-term tenants to enable this. For further details, my response to the recent UK government consultation is available on request. Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome.

Last updated on 2023-10-21 at 11:41