Response from Cllr Benson re the HMO Petition
READING BOROUGH COUNCIL
CABINET MEETING 17 JANUARY 2011
PETITION in accordance with Standing Order No. 8
Jan Gavin to submit the petition to the Lead Councillor for Community Care, Housing and Health (Councillor Benson):
HMOS AND PLANNING PERMISSION
We, the undersigned, call upon Reading Borough Council to use its powers to require all new house conversions to HMOs [houses in multiple occupation] to apply for planning permission.
REPLY by Councillor Benson (Lead Councillor for Community Care, Housing and Health):
Many thanks to the local residents who have signed this petition
The Council is fully aware of the complex issues surrounding Houses of Multiple Occupation in Reading, in common with many other urban areas, and as such the Coalition Administration of is fully committed to using all powers available us to ensure a balance of housing types is maintained for the benefit of local residents.
As a ward councillor for an area with already very high concentration of HMOs, I have actively campaigned over the years for more robust action to be taken by this Council and other local agencies to tackle some of the problems which occur in areas where there exist high-concentration of houses of multiple-occupation.
You may recall that during 2008/9 I led the first ever cross-cutting scrutiny review of Reading’s Private Rented Sector, which very much focused on the issues and impacts of HMOs, both in terms of their role in meeting housing need and the detrimental impact that concentrations of such uses can sometimes have on the local environment and existing community.
Detailed recommendations were submitted to the previous Labour administration of this Council following the Scrutiny Review and as a result a number of Council policies were improved for the benefit of local residents.
However, we are not complacent and we are constantly reviewing our local policies to ensure they are working effectively and are sufficient to protect and enhance our communities.
With this in mind local authorities have the power if they wish to remove permitted development rights and require a planning application to be submitted. This can be done through the use of what is known as an Article 4 Direction.
When considering whether or not to make an Article 4 Direction, a the Council would need to be satisfied that, “there are exceptional circumstances where the evidence suggests that the exercise of permitted development rights to change to small HMOs would harm local amenity or the proper planning of the area”.
The effect of an Article 4 Direction is not that development within the particular category of permitted development cannot be carried out, but that a planning application would be required. Applicants would also have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State should the Council refuse permission. If it were to refuse permission the Council would need to demonstrate that the proposal would cause harm to local amenity or the proper planning of the area and would conflict with planning policies contained in the Council’s Local Development Framework.
I am pleased to advise that the Council is already taking the opportunity to update its planning policy framework to deal with recent change in legislation: Council will be considering a revised policy for flat conversions and HMO’s in the Local Development Framework Draft Sites and Detailed Policies Document on 25th January. If agreed, this document will be published for consultation during spring 2011.
The revised policy will provide a basis for assessing applications for planning permission for small HMO’s in the event that the Council does serve an Article 4 Direction. A copy of the policy can be seen on the Council’s website – a link is attached at the end of this written response.
It would be most appropriate to consider an Article 4 Direction for those areas which are experiencing pressure as a result of changes of use to small HMO’s such that the amenity or the proper planning of the area is being detrimentally affected. It seems very unlikely that it would be appropriate to require all conversions to small HMO use in the Borough to apply for planning permission. Research and survey work and some consultation will need to be undertaken to identify areas where there is evidence that changes of use to small HMO’s is having a detrimental impact and to which a Direction might, therefore, be appropriately applied. This work will need to take account of available resources and form part of the overall work programme for the planning service. Officers are proposing that a report is brought to Cabinet during summer 2011 to consider whether there are areas where an Article 4 Direction would be appropriate.
In conclusion I can confirm that the Council will be considering going forward with a draft planning policy framework to guide planning decisions on such conversions should an Article 4 Direction be made in the future. The Council will also be undertaking work during 2011 to consider whether there are any parts of the Borough where an Article 4 Direction of this kind would be appropriate.
Petition No. 1
Footway Parking Ban — Labour demands consultation
THE LOCAL ConDem coalition have decided to introduce a borough wide footway and verge parking ban early next year to raise extra money. This means that all footway and verge parking will be illegal and subject to the same fines as vehicles that park on yellow lines.
We agree with the ConDems that some roads where no alternative parking is available should be exempt from the ban. We also recognise that bad parking in some roads makes it impossible for pushchairs and wheelchairs to pass safely.
But we don’t think it is right that the LibDems in Redlands should decide which roads are included and which are not. We think that there should be a proper public consultation with all residents to get their views.
Controlling Landlords and HMOs [houses in multiple occupation]
The Tory Housing Minister has decided to scrap the need to apply for planning permission to convert a home to a house in multiple occupation (HMO). This means that Reading landlords no longer need to apply to the Council to convert houses where the property is occupied by less than six unrelated individuals who share one or more basic amenities.
The Government is saying that Councils can impose their own controls locally, Reading is still ‘awaiting further advice from central Government’ about how to do this! The Coalition has opened up a great big yawning gap in controls through which dodgy landlords will be rushing to establish new HMO’s without any need to consult or even inform neighbours.
Many people, in East Reading in particular, live in streets where house after house has been made into an HMO, many of them poorly managed and poorly maintained. We want to make sure that we keep a good balance between family homes and HMOs. We also need to make sure that any conversions are of a decent standard with proper fire safety precautions.
We are organising a petition to present to the Council calling upon them to use its powers to require all new HMOs to apply for planning permission.
You can sign the petition on the web at http://www.gopetition.com/petition/39897.html