Districts should seek robust regulatory powers in the current government consultation
Cllr Susan Brown, Labour group leader and Vice Chair, DCN; leader, Oxford City Council
I have huge shoes to fill, having taken over from Cllr Sharon Taylor – now Baroness Taylor, of course – as DCN’s Labour group leader.
For leaders of my own group, I’m keen to hear from you about what you’d like my DCN priorities to be. And for those of other parties, let me assure you that I approach this role in a spirit of collaboration and partnership, as I do in Oxfordshire where I’m currently the only Labour leader.
This is my first District Bulletin contribution and I want to talk about an issue which looms just as large in councils controlled by parties of other colours to my own – short-term lets.
Everyone can conjure up an image of Oxford – the dreaming spires – but Oxford is a divided city, with unequal levels of wealth and much deprivation. We have a severe shortage of affordable housing. We may be a world-famous city but the negative impact of short-term lets on the housing needs of our local population gives us much in common with more rural district councils in seaside resorts and national parks.
We do have an opportunity to make a contribution, both individually and collectively through DCN, on this issue after the government launched a consultation on a registration scheme for short-term lets.
In my view, nothing proposed in the consultation will be the game changer we need – although it is at least welcome that our views are being sought on this important issue. We need to start from scratch in terms of thinking what we want from a system, which works in areas where short-term lets are seen as beneficial in terms of boosting tourism and really doesn’t in areas where this benefit is outweighed by the loss of much-needed housing. Above all, the new system needs to have teeth, standards and the flexibility to allow councils to make the policies that work for their area.
In Oxford we have an enormous shortage of affordable housing. Nearly 50% of our population lives in rented accommodation, over 30% in the private rented sector, which is becoming scarcer as housing is lost to permanent residents. There is currently little we can do to regulate it.
Not only do our residents suffer but we do as a council, with council tax revenue falling and no business rates being paid. It’s not a level playing field, with reputable hotels and bed and breakfasts, which do pay business rates, being penalised.
Some short-term lets are being used by criminals including as pop-up brothels, while others are booked as ‘party houses’, causing huge upset to neighbours. Little meaningful action can be taken against a series of short-term tenants in cases of excessive noise or disturbance.
And we also know that some properties which failed to meet the required standards for our Houses in Multiple Occupation register are becoming short-term lets instead. They are as unfit for occupation by short-term residents as they were for permanent ones.
So I’d like to see a robust regulation system, designed to uphold safety and fairness, both for our tourist visitors and our permanent residents and businesses. I’d also like the power to limit the number of short-term lets in any neighbourhood or to ban them entirely.
Without such measures our city will be poorer, our shops and restaurants will be impacted with fewer prospective staff able to afford to live locally, our schools will be deprived of pupils and our overall community will be diminished.
I’d be very interested to hear views from those of you in councils facing similar problems. And, if you feel strongly, take the opportunity to say so by responding to the consultation.
I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into my new role at the DCN and wish all of you standing for election next Thursday the very best of luck.