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Tourist tax on hotels and airbnb short lets could raise £25m, Labour

Tory council refuses to comment triggering speculation they are going to adopt Labour's plan

28 September, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Dimoldenberg says windfall could end “appalling” public toilet crisis

A “TOURIST tax” should be imposed on residents who let out their homes on Airbnb and other hotel operators, say Labour.

Councillors believe that £25million could be raised through a “small levy” that could improve public services, including rubbish collections, maintaining parks, street lighting, policing and public toilets.

Labour said public toilets are “appalling” in Westminster and that many toilets had been shut or poorly maintained by a private operator. An estimated £2million a year cost of running Westminster’s public toilets to a high standard could be funded via a tax.

The Conservative-run council last night (Thursday) said it would not comment on whether it opposed or supported a tourist tax.

Labour’s environment and city management spokesman Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg said: “Tourism is a very important part of Westminster’s economy. But, there are also costs of keeping the city attractive and providing the everyday public service which visitors expect to see.

“A small tourist tax would help to pay for the cost of providing facilities which tourists enjoy – keeping the environment clean and tidy, maintaining parks, street lights and open spaces, public toilets, policing and emergency services.

“In addition, the cost of more regular collections of rubbish could be financed by a small tourist tax and would transform the street scene across Westminster for everyone. Additional public realm improvements could be paid for out of the tax, as well as anti-pollution and recycling initiatives and cracking down on illegal short lets.”

“We will be taking forward this initiative with council officers and would like to hear the views of local residents, amenity societies and businesses.”

Similar schemes are common in major cities across the world including Paris, Rome and Venice. In popular Berlin, the charge is around five per cent of the accommodation cost. Edinburgh is poised to become the first city in the UK to introduce the levy.

Labour said legislation would be required to set up the scheme but local authorities should be able to choose whether to implement it. Its research said there are around 450 hotels in Westminster, with 40,000 rooms. There were also around 3,600 short-term lets with the Airbnb.

Each hotel and Airbnb operator would need to register with the council and provide details of the hotel star grade and number of rooms. But it will face pressure from hotel bosses.

UK Hospitality – formerly the British Hospitality Association – has consistently lobbied against the “destructive” measures and last week its chief executive wrote to chancellor Philip Hammond opposing any plans.

Kate Nicholls’s letter warned of a “profound opposition” to the policy, warning the “additional taxation would wreak on an already-strained and over-burdened sector”.

The letter had suggested that the levy would push more people into using Airbnb instead of hotels – but Labour’s proposal is to charge extra to Airbnb users as well.

It has been suggested the council is in the mood for adopting Labour policy initiatives, after last week’s announcement that it was cutting ties with private housing operator, CityWest Homes.

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