National HMO Lobby


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Use Classes Order
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Students & Community

National HMO Lobby



Hymn Sheet

During 2008, CLG will be issuing a consultation paper inviting comments on the potential changes to the current Use Class Order, particularly in relation to Use Class Order for dwellings (C3) and the current definitions of what constitutes HMOs. CLG have therefore commissioned research to inform the consultation paper.

The National HMO Lobby's concern is with (a) restoration of those neighbourhoods where concentrations of HMOs have had a detrimental impact on balance, cohesion and sustainability, and (b) prevention of the same damage being done in other neighbourhoods.

To identify good practice in areas with high concentrations of HMOs (particularly those occupied by students).
# NB Student demand is undoubtedly the major driver of concentrations of HMOs, but it is the concentrations (not the particular market) which raise problems - and these arise, not only in university towns (for students), but also in seaside towns (for benefit claimants), market towns (for migrant workers), and so on. The symptoms vary, but the common underlying problem is transience.
# NB2 Concentrations of student HMOs are not only detrimental to the host neighbourhood in particular - but are also detrimental to local housing supply in general. First homes for families are converted to seasonal second homes for students.
# The National HMO Lobby recommends a Ten Point Plan as the basis for good practice.
Current good practice includes -
# Local Stakeholder Forum, comprising (e.g.) the local authority, local community associations, local HEIs, local student unions, and the local PRS [e.g. Leeds' Shared Housing Group, Nottingham's Student Strategy Leadership Group].
# Action Plan agreed by the members of the Forum [e.g. Leeds' SHAP, Nottingham's Balanced Communities Student Housing Action Plan].
# Action on Causes, i.e. demographics: planning policies (e.g. Leeds' UDP Policies H15, H15A, LDF City Centre AAP, etc; Nottingham's Balanced Communities SPD]; housing policies [e.g. Leeds' Housing Strategy for the Area of Housing Mix, Nottingham's Housing Strategy SPD].
# Action on Effects, social, environmental, economic [e.g. in Leeds, Cumulative Impact Policy, DPPO, Flyer Control Zone, Direction on Letting Boards, Streetscene, flyposting drums, RPZs, Additional HMO Licensing (tbc); also, Community Planning Officer, Neighbourhood Helpline, Students & Community Group; in Nottingham, HMO Action Zones, Student Co-ordination & Delivery Group].

To test whether these ideas could have a wider application to other areas which are experiencing problems.
First, how effective has been good practice? In fact, its success has been very limited. . In some towns, some success has been achieved in tackling the environmental issues, but none (or very little indeed) in tackling the imbalance in the community and loss of family housing.
# Malfunction of Stakeholder Fora -
a) 'partnership' members may have conflicting objectives (especially, university/ student/landlord aims versus residents/local authority);
b) the problem is not accepted by some partners (some students see themselves as part of the community, even when they have in reality replaced the local community with their own);
c) lack of continuity in the partnership (e.g. student representatives change every year).
# Resources are inadequate (unless poached from services elsewhere).
# Powers are inadequate, especially planning controls (and some partners are unwilling to use the powers they have).
# Effects are tackled, rather than fundamental causes.
# Timing is too late, the damage has been done, practices constitute a rear-guard action.
So, wider application depends on -
# adopting good practice identified above - but also -
# surmounting the barriers to success also identified.

To determine whether (and if so what) planning policy is a suitable lever to tackle these problems.
The Use Classes Order is the most relevant planning lever.
# HMOs represent a distinct land usage, in terms of occupancy, occupation, occupants, occupiers (distinct equally from Class C1, from Class C2 and from Class C3).
# The present Order does not recognise this distinction, and therefore needs amendment
a) a new definition of HMO (the Housing Act 2004 provides the obvious model);
b) a new classification, either a new Class C4, or sui generis (a class-of-its-own).
# Hence, conversion of a property to HMO constitutes change-of-use, and therefore requires planning permission.
Objections to UCO amendment are not significant.
# It won't reverse the present concentrations: of course it won't; but there is still need to control HMOs - around new universities, where universities are expanding, and even around established universities, due to internal migration by students.
# It will increase red-tape: of course it will, where needed; but this does not mean everywhere - the power is an option to be used, not a requirement.
# In fact, the power will only effectively be applicable where the local planning authority has adopted appropriate local planning policies (Areas of Restraint, Thresholds, etc).
# It will damage the housing market: this is unlikely; in fact the market actually damages housing supply - HMO conversion consists often of conversion of a first home for a family into a seasonal second home for students.
# It will penalise first-time buyers taking lodgers to cover their mortgage: local planning authorities can adopt local policies, allowing permission for HMOs where the owner is in occupation.
There are also other planning considerations.
# Dr Julie Rugg (currently conducting CLG's PRS Review) has recommended that "a housing strategy should be integral to the expansion plans of every HEI, and comprise an analysis of likely impacts on the local rental market and consultation with local community groups" (Rugg et al, 2000).
# The Planning Inspectorate's role needs reconsideration -
a) Inspectors are frequently unfamiliar with local demographic problems;
b) Inspectors often take an un-necessarily literal approach to planning policy;
c) Inspectors give insufficient attention to PPS3 on mixed communities.

Dr Richard Tyler, National HMO Lobby, April 2008


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