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Tourism under threat: Short-term letting plan is using a ‘hammer to crack a nut’

Self-catering sector could take a hit as new register designed to ease housing crisis comes into effect


Terry O’Toole of Love Connemara Cottages in Clifden, Co Galway

Terry O’Toole of Love Connemara Cottages in Clifden, Co Galway

Terry O’Toole of Love Connemara Cottages in Clifden, Co Galway

A new register for short-term letting that aims to ease the housing crisis by freeing up homes for longer-term leasing may be “using a hammer to crack a nut”, according to the self-catering tourism sector.

The register, which will be run by Fáilte Ireland, risks putting many self-catering operators out of business if they are in rent-pressure zones, warned Máire Ní Mhurchú, chair of the Irish Self Catering Federation (ISCF).

Under the new system, property owners and online accommodation platforms such as Airbnb will have to register or face fines of up to €5,000.

The register is required under an EU directive, but the legislation was flagged late last year as aiming to free up as many as 12,000 homes for longer-term lease at a time of severe shortages.

Owners of properties such as Airbnb units and other short-term lets in rent pressure zones — now covering up to 74pc of accommodation in the State — will have to show they have specific change of use planning permission as part of the registration.

Ms Ní Mhurchú said the federation, which represents more than 140 members with 6,000 self-catering units, welcomes a register, and said the lack of one led to the rapid growth of online accommodation operators such as Airbnb.

However, short-term lets in rural areas that are in rent pressure zones may not qualify for change of use planning criteria.

“For example, we have a member who is a dairy farmer with a short-term let 10km down a boreen, but he is in a rent pressure zone,” Ms Ní Mhurchú said.

“We are not against any planning approval, but it has to be geared to take into account the nature of short-term lets, and we have drawn up guidelines for planners, which we submitted, but have received no response.

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“Guidelines for planners would also ensure people setting up new self-catering businesses, such as glamping and yurts, will have clear requirements for their business.”

A 2019 report for the federation showed there were more self-catering beds on the Wild Atlantic Way than hotel rooms.

“There is already a squeeze on holiday accommodation as the Government seeks to accommodate migrants, and rightly so, and we don’t want a situation where there is a further shortage and this becomes a hammer cracking a nut,” Ms Ní Mhurchú said.

Siobhán Bennett, of Connemara Coastal Cottages, said there was no guarantee rent pressure zones would not be extended further.

“And if planning is required, a huge number of owners will opt out,” she added.

Terry O’Toole, of Love Connemara Cottages, in Clifden, Co Galway, said the new register was “very welcome, once it is proportionate”. He said the short-term letting sector was a key element of the tourism economy.

His agency takes in €1.25m a year for the owners of 105 properties across Connemara, and he pointed out that Airbnb does not have the same impact on housing availability in Connemara.

Factors such as a lack of social housing, the price of existing property being out of reach for most local people and the difficulties encountered by local people in securing planning permission were far more influential in relation to housing availability, Mr O’Toole said.

Fáilte Ireland said that as part of the Government’s Housing for All plan, the new register’s goal is “to ensure housing stock is used to best effect in areas of housing need”.

“Once legislation is enacted, property owners advertising short-term tourism accommodation for periods up to and including 21 nights will have a statutory obligation to register their property with Fáilte Ireland,” it said.

​A spokeswoman said a number of briefings took place with industry stakeholders at the “earliest possible opportunity”.

“To minimise disruption to the tourism industry, there will be a clarification period of up to six months,” she added, and this would allow those needing to apply change of use planning permission to continue offering tourist lets.

“Fáilte Ireland will also continue to work with local authorities across the country to ensure any housing stock that is not suitable for private housing may continue to be used for tourism purposes.”

The Department of Tourism said the new register “does not change anything in relation to planning permission requirements”, while the Department of Housing said the planning requirement is “only confined to rent pressure zones”.

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