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Airbnb and internet short term lets are adding to Cambridge housing strain says councillor

Terraced housing in Cambridge
Terraced housing in Cambridge

A Cambridge city Liberal Democrat spokesperson is calling for a planning review to face the Airbnb impact.

Lib Dem Planning spokesperson Cllr Tim Bick is calling on Cambridge City Council to review its policy on Airbnb, following a reported series of problems raised by residents across the city.

Cllr Bick said: “Airbnb and similar internet-based visitor accommodation have come a long way from the idea of people offering visitors the use of a spare room in their house. It is quite a different ball game where entire homes are put into use for continuous short term lettings.

“There are two potential issues. One is the removal of housing for people wanting to settle in the city. That’s very serious when we’ve got a big housing shortage, driving prices that are out-of-reach for many.

“The second is disturbance to surrounding residential properties. Serviced, visitor rooms or apartments typically give rise to comings and goings round the clock, as people arrive from airports, and daily laundry vans.

“The need for short term visitor accommodation in Cambridge probably does need to be addressed. The economy of our city, both as an international centre of ideas and a tourism destination, clearly needs a certain amount of this. But it needs to be in balance - and shouldn’t trample on other important needs.”

Cllr Bick undertook to investigate the City Council’s approach to Airbnb after it was raised by residents at the West-Central Area Committee in December and he says he will report back at its next meeting on Thursday.

He says he discovered that a series of problems have recently arisen across the city; that planners are saying the factors determining ‘short term letting’ need clarifying.

He said that while London has a statutory definition, which is use for more than 90 days of the year, planners need to define this locally for ease of understanding and enforcement.

“Our planners are working on this now,” says Cllr Bick. “They tell me there are likely to be a number of key questions - among them: Does anyone permanently live at the address? How long are the lettings? For what proportion of the time is it used for visitor lettings? How suitable is the property for short term lettings?

“The city’s planning policies already provide a basis for deciding whether to allow housing to be turned into visitor lettings – and this does provide protection for permanent housing and the existing context of an area. But I think we need to ask whether this is enough in the light of the growth of this type of business.

“I plan to ask for a report on this at the next Development Plan Committee because I think it is something that in the interests of the city we must remain on top of.”

Councillor Kevin Blencowe, the Executive Councillor for Planning Policy and Transport, said: “In practice most short term rentals have always been measured in weeks or at most months but Airbnb and similar businesses have changed the market by making it much easier to find tenants for much shorter periods of time, and often at short notice.

“The city council is aware of this growing national trend and within Cambridge have already served some Planning Contravention Notices to determine if there has been a breach of planning control. It is a matter of ‘fact and degree’ as to when a change of use occurs from residential to visitor accommodation and we are looking at developing a clear assessment framework to use when considering potential breaches.”

Councillor Kevin Price, the City’s Executive Councillor for Housing, added: “There is already a lack of good quality rental accommodation in Cambridge and I would encourage those who want to rent out their properties to consider the benefits of having stable, longer term tenants. Our own letting agency, Town Hall Lettings, is also always looking for suitable properties and can help manage the lettings for property owners.”

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