We in the city centre have be grappling with the very many issues created by the operation of short term holiday lets and in particular "party house" for several years and TARA has been involved in a number of discussions and activities aimed at ameliorating this problem. Latterly various political interests and pressure groups have recognised the issue so it seems and appropriate moment summarise TARA's view of the current "state of play"
Two years ago, we successfully lobbied the council to review the legal advice to their planning officers in the light of Appeal Court Judgements which allow them to view this type of letting a “change of use” requiring planning permission and opening the owner to a more stringent set of regulations and potentially a requirement to pay business rates.
The appeal court said that whether the use of a dwelling for commercial holiday lettings amounts to a material change of use is a question of fact and degree in each case and the answer depends on the particular characteristics of their use as holiday accommodation. The courts have taken a very narrow view of what characteristics are relevant and have demanded a very high standard of proof.
In the intervening period BANEs have occasionally been able to make use of this judgement and enforce change of use but in most instances, the applicants have successfully argued that they fall outside the criteria required to enforce an application for change use.
The most recent use of this mechanism has received some publicity mainly because a number local politicians have raised objections to the change of use being granted. This represents a gamble on their part which might effectively block the use of this device in future because if change of use is refused the applicants have already indicated that they will appeal saying that change of use is not required and this might well create an unhelpful precedent. However, if change of use is granted they will continue to trade but be subject to a more stringent regulatory regime.
What is really needed to address this problem is action by central government. However, this year the City Centre Action Group got our then MP to raise a question in the House of Commons about whether Minsters intended to do anything to improve or even clarify the law in this area and the answer was that they don’t.
Local authorities across the country have tried a number of approaches to this issue most of which have collapsed under legal challenge. BANE's have recently indicated that they are considering adopting procedures developed by Brighton involving mechanisms for promoting better cross agency collaboration and voluntary codes of conduct backed by the local hotelier's organisations. We will be interested in seeing BIGHA's response to this as many Bath party houses appear to be operated by their members.
We welcome the initiative taken by the Avon Fire Service to invite holiday property proprietors to voluntary training and awareness session about fire safety.
We are also asking the police and local authority rigorously apply the provisions of the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Police Act 2014.
There are a number of ways in which the police and environmental protection service can use the powers of the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to make landlords more responsible for the behaviour of tenants and their property management practices but they need support from residents in the form of formal complaints and evidence gathering.
The use of any of these provisions requires close cooperation between various BANEs enforcement departments and the Police. Some years ago, we used the Community Trigger Provisions of the Act to accelerate this. However, we are now concerned that this may be undermined by manpower reductions in the policing of Bath and in particular the Anti Social Behaviour Unit.
In the meantime we are urging affected residents’ to complain regularly to BANES Environmental Protection Team who can be reached via Council Connect. It is really important that there is a body of officially recorded complaints that can be referred to in any enforcement proceedings