Third Reading

Part of Deregulation Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 4th March 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 6:00 pm, 4th March 2015

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to our other amendments in this group. In doing so, I, too, draw attention to my interest in the register. We consider that this is an integrated group of amendments that stand together, should we decide to test the view of the House. I trust that that is agreed.

The issue of short-term lets has generated considerable controversy since it has been proposed that there should be some relaxation of the London provisions, but it has also focused attention on what is now happening in the market and why the status quo cannot be sustained. Currently, the letting of residential accommodation for temporary sleeping accommodation in London for a period of less than 90 consecutive nights constitutes a change of use for which planning permission is required. Notwithstanding that there is the possibility of a fine of up to £20,000 for failure to secure permission, we know that short-term letting is extensively carried on without permission being available.

We have covered in earlier debates the problems that can arise and the issue is helpfully dealt with also by the briefing we have received from London Councils for this debate. It concerns the potential loss of residential accommodation to the lucrative short-let market, increased problems with noise and anti-social behaviour, loss of community identity, increased crime and fire safety risks, and significant challenges on continual enforcement. We know that other cities around the world are experiencing similar problems. There is clearly a market for this activity and business opportunities have been created, particularly via the internet, which are different, as the noble Lord said, from the 1970s. According to the Government’s own figures, there are currently thousands of London properties and rooms advertised as used for short-term lets, each potentially in breach of the law. That is an untenable situation.

The amendments that I am speaking to have the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Gardner of Parks, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who have each added their names. Indeed, we have worked together across our party divides to come up with a package of measures that, building on the government amendments, would enable home owners who wish to let their homes on a short-term basis to do so unless there is detriment to the amenity of the locality and to do so within a system where there is proper notification to local authorities and where enforcement is enabled. Like the Government, we do not see this as providing new opportunities for large-scale commercial lettings. These amendments, too, are about providing safeguards for the local community.

Our amendments cover five issues. First, there must be provision in regulations for those letting properties on a short-term basis to have an obligation to notify the local authority. Our amendment is not prescriptive as to form and content and it need not be overly bureaucratic. The Minister rather set his face against that in introducing his contribution, but there is no reason why this could not be dealt with very straightforwardly via some web- based approach. It is not prescriptive, but it would give an opportunity for the local authority to gain an understanding of the scale of activity in its area. It would also aid local authorities in their enforcement role, which we know is a challenge at the moment, and of course potentially be an encouragement to tax compliance.

Secondly, we consider the number of days in the calendar year that accommodation should be available for short-term letting should be 60 rather than 90 days, as the Minister recognised, with regulations enabling this to be reduced. We consider that to be a more reasonable constraint and protection on local amenity. But even that would allow a four-month back-to-back letting across a year end. The Minister simply asserted that 90 days was more appropriate. I am not sure that that assertion, frankly, carries more weight than one for 60 days.

The concept is that short-term letting should be allowed effectively for someone’s home. It appears that the Government are seeking to define that by liability to council tax. We think that that is inadequate. Would not a liability to council tax arise for somebody letting residential property on a commercial basis, for example, between tenancies? Limiting the relaxation to someone’s principal residence in London would better target the deregulations.

Fourthly, we welcome the provision that the Government are seeking to make for local authorities to disapply the regulation for certain properties or areas, but oppose this right being subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. Local authorities are better placed to make the judgment about the impact of short-term lettings in their boroughs. Surely, that must be the case. We agree that they should not be able to do this in an arbitrary manner and protection of the amenity of a locality is a fair yardstick. However, we believe that a desirable hurdle rather than one that is necessary is considerably fairer. Indeed, the necessary hurdle could give rise to substantial and fair challenges on the local authority.

Finally, there is the issue of enforcement. In their policy document of February this year, the Government stated that:

“To protect amenity and address concerns over nuisance, the Government proposes that the new flexibility should be able to be withdrawn from particular properties after just one successful enforcement action against a statutory nuisance”.

In his contribution, the Minister said that there was provision elsewhere for this to be effective, but I am not sure where it is. The Government were clear in their policy document that that was what they wanted to happen. Our amendment provides that regulation should make such provision but is potentially more flexible than the “one strike and you’re out” approach.

These amendments are not designed to undermine the Government’s position, but to strengthen the safe- guards, but also, in the spirit of localism, to recognise that local authorities and not the Secretary of State are best placed to determine whether the scale of short-term letting is destroying the amenity of their areas. I beg to move.