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The HRA’s response to the Southampton City Council consultation on the revised HMO SPD

SOUTHAMPTON CITY COUNCIL CONSULTATION ON REVISED HMO SPD

RESPONSE OF HIGHFIELD RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION

 

Contents

HRA believes the Final Report of the Scrutiny Panel on Maintaining Balanced Neighbourhoods through Planning response, should be included in the Appendices.

Introduction

1.5    HRA welcomes the proposal to amend the threshold to 10% city-wide, and to address the issue of ‘sandwiching’. The proposed clarification of the policy on exceptional circumstances also seems constructive.

However, as detailed below, there are a number of further issues which we believe should be addressed, and without which the revised SPD will, in our view, be a missed opportunity. In particular we are disappointed that there are no measures proposed to address density of population as well as properties in wards where the proportion of HMOs ward-wide is already well in excess  of 10% and/or there is an exceptionally high transient population (e.g. due the presence of Halls of Residence). We are strongly of the view that, without such measures at ward level, the protection offered to wards like Portswood will continue to be incomplete.

Proposed Changes to the Text

  • We propose that the words ‘or would be breached by the current application’ be inserted after ‘…..has been breached….’ for clarity.

New Approach

3.1.3 We feel the word ‘strong’ in this para. is excessive in the light of data which shows that Bargate and Bevois wards, currently within the 20% threshold, are among the highest in HMO saturation, while Swaythling has a relatively high level of approvals (Appendix 3) for a ward with a 10% threshold.

At a 38% approval rate city wide, a rate of 48% in the wards with a 20% threshold as against 23% in those with a 10% threshold suggest that more needs to be done.

3.2.3 See above (1.5) regarding the inadequacy of this brief and passing reference to the Scrutiny Inquiry. The summary at 3.2.4 is quite inadequate and fails to the subsequent acceptance by Cabinet of the bulk of the Inquiry’s recommendations.

3.2.7 Welcomed as above.

3.3.1 Basset, Portswood and Swaythling (the current 10% threshold wards) seem to have been excluded from this paragraph, even though the percentage of HMOs is well in excess of 10%!

Further, the inclusion of this data suggests that it is possible to calculate HMO density by ward (albeit via 2008 data). Para. 4.1.1. points out that ‘there is a variety of evidence sources on the location of HMOs’. With the inclusion of up-to-date information gleaned through Additional Licensing, Council Tax data etc., a ward threshold in addition to the locality threshold should be practicable. We strongly urge the Council to give serious consideration to how this can best be effected, and to bring forward specific proposals for inclusion in the adopted revised SPD.

In our view the adverse effects of an over-concentration of HMOs affects the wider community (e.g. an unbalanced annual cycle for use of public transport, parking pressures, retail demand, through-passage noise, litter etc.) as well as immediate neighbours. There needs to be stronger emphasis given to amenity and neighbourhood character issues.

We would strongly urge the introduction of a ward-wide 10% threshold (inclusive of Hals of Residence, hostels etc.), as well as the 40 metres threshold, in those wards where there is clear evidence that this figure has already been exceeded.

We note that York has adopted the dual threshold, set at 10% within100m either side of the applicant property and a maximum of 20% of properties within all electoral registration output areas contiguous with the output area within which the applicant property is situated. Though this falls short of ward-wide, it is a significant advance on Southampton’s single 40m threshold.

At the least, measures need to be incorporated to reflect density of population as well as properties. (See 4.2.1,4.3.2, 4.8.2, Appendix 2.4, Appendix 2.6.2 below.)

4.2.1 Stage 1: The presence of Halls of Residence should be given significant weight. Some weight should be attached to ‘flatification’. Stage 2: should read ‘…whether they are an existing HMO or have HMO consent…..’ for clarity.

4.2.5 Surely the aim of Additional Licensing is to build up, over time, such a comprehensive database?

4.3.2 ‘Adjoining’ could be taken to imply a semi-detached or terrace status. ‘Contiguous’ might be preferable?

Back-to-back relationships can cause as much disruption and distress as side-by-side, and should therefore be included.

4.4    Worked Example 3:  The policy text refers to properties within 40 m ‘from the application site’ (i.e. any point within the curtilage of the applicant property) not simply the ‘main external doorway’.

4.5.1 We accept this clarification.

4.6.2 What is the purpose of the bracketed qualification? Should ‘…whether or not itself requiring planning consent…’ be added for clarity?

Large HMOs should count double for the purposes of determining whether or not thresholds have been, or would be, breached.

4.7.2 Why can’t a large HMO be ‘flipped’?

4.8.2 We can envisage circumstances in which an increase in occupancy in a small HMO could have a significant impact on either (or both) resident or neighbour amenities.

5.3  We are concerned about the possible longer term implications of any relaxation of off-street parking requirements. If anything we would wish to see a requirement for an increased level of off-street provision.

6.2  The onus of proof in evidencing an established HMO / lawful use must rest firmly with the applicant. Application for dual C3/C4 use should only be approved where conclusive evidence of established C4 use has been established.

6.3  Under what circumstances could it be acceptable for a landlord to choose not to regularise an HMO?

APPENDIX 2 HMO DEFINITION

  1. While we believe that all purpose-built student accommodation should be counted, we note that the 5th bullet point refers to ‘buildings managed by an education establishment i.e. halls of residence’. Presumably therefore privately provided student accommodation does count.
  2. 2 A 2-bedroom flat could contain 4 or more unrelated persons.
  3. We welcome this proviso.

APPENDIX 4 STANDARD OF LIVING CONDITIONS

  1. The lack of comprehensive amenity standards for HMOs has been a matters of concern for a considerable time. While welcoming the commitment to ‘private housing amenity standards’ we feel a shortfall should automatically lead to refuse of planning permission, and that the text under 6 needs to be tightened accordingly.

York has adopted a Code of Best Practice to which HMOs are required to conform, and requires a management plan covering upkeep of external areas including gardens and bin storage. We commend this approach.

  1. Again, the minimum size of amenity space should be specified.

Other matters

  • The cumulative impact of extensions on a locality should be capable of being taken into account.

 

  • There is no reference to enforcement, which should be speedy and thorough. Reference to powers under Stop Notices, the Proceeds of Crime Act, Untidy Site Notices etc. should be included.

 

  • It would be helpful to include reference to the intention to apply enforceability of proof of intent, refusal of multiple or over-lapping appeals, additional fees for retrospective applications, and confiscation of rent for unauthorised occupancy as and when permissive legislative change can be secured.

 

  • There needs to be a commitment to introduce an Article 7 Directive to address the plethora of ‘To Let’ and ‘For Sale’ boards.

 

  • There is urgent need for clarification of Local Plan Policy H13, including introduction of a clearer, ‘Oxford’-style statement requiring one-for-one additional purpose-built student accommodation to match any increase, or potential increase, in student numbers as a result of University planning applications. While we recognise that this is primarily a matter for inclusion in the next iteration of the Local Plan, reference in the revised SPD should be a stepping-stone.

 

  • HMO Licenses should only be issued for properties that have already obtained planning permission to operate as HMOs.

 

  • The attachment of Conditions controlling numbers and types of occupancy should be regularly considered where applications for att HMO planning permissions are approved.

 

Adrian Vinson

HRA Committee Member for Planning and Licensing

March 2016