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National HMO Lobby



Silo Thinking Misses Boat
News Release 10 August 2006

Two recent government publications reveal a crying need for joined-up thinking in approaches to housing problems in general - and to those of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in particular.

The Dept for Communities & Local Government's Housing Research Summary 228 on Dealing with 'Problem' Private Rented Housing was published on 26 July 2006. For probably the first time, the government has admitted, in the section on 'The characteristics of localities, properties and residents', that some of the problems in the private rented sector arise from student housing. They give the example of Canterbury, where "the 'swamping' of areas with student households has begun to concern residents and members."

Of course, this has long been acknowledged by communities and many councils, and even by universities and landlords. In Northern Ireland, the Belfast HMO Plan was published on 27 June 2006 by the Planning Service of the Dept of the Environment, for public consultation. The Plan shows what can be done in principle if there are adequate planning powers available. [In practice, the Plan is seriously flawed.] Unfortunately, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with planning controls on HMOs. Unfortunately too, the Plan also indicates that we may have missed the boat in controlling HMOs - the horse has already bolted, as it were. Communities like the Holyland in Belfast are already overwhelmed by HMOs.

The Belfast Plan shows also that national planning powers on HMOs are necessary but not sufficient. To be implemented, they also need local planning policies. (Towns throughout the UK already know that local policies without national powers are ineffective.)

The Belfast Plan of course is about planning policy. But it also recommends parallel housing policy - specifically, the extension of registration (or licensing) to all HMOs in Belfast, not just the present partial scheme. This too has lessons for England & Wales.

Meanwhile, in Dealing with 'Problem' Private Rented Housing, the DCLG refers specifically to student HMOs in Canterbury. The Summary notes, "Canterbury is now introducing an accreditation scheme specifically for student lettings." Accreditation is considered elsewhere in the Summary. But this is typical silo thinking - only housing measures are considered to address housing problems. What is necessary, as Belfast shows, is that first of all, planning measures are essential to deal with 'swamping', and secondly, that planning and housing solutions need to go hand-in-hand.

This failure of joined-up thinking is all the more acute, as the conversion of family homes into HMOs for students represents a seepage of hundreds of thousands of houses from the national stock into what are effectively second-homes - at a time of acute housing shortage. As the Belfast Plan says, "Purpose built accommodation for students is considered a more suitable form of accommodation rather than the conversion of terraced dwellings." (Or indeed, three-bed semis with gardens.)

Richard Tyler, of the National HMO Lobby, says, "Both these papers demonstrate the need to break out of the silo, and to undertake real joined-up policy-making - between planning, housing and education - and between national and local government - and indeed, between all the countries of the UK."

1. The National HMO Lobby is a network of forty community associations in thirty towns, campaigning for effective action nationally and locally on concentrations of HMOs, to restore balance and sustainability to their communities.
2. Dept for Communities & Local Government, Housing Research Summary 228: Dealing with 'Problem' Private Rented Housing (July 2006) is available online at
3. Planning Service, Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs): Subject Plan for Belfast City Council Area 2015, Draft Plan 2006 Dept of the Environment, NI (2006) is available online at
4. Canterbury City Council Student Impact Scrutiny Review, Draft Report (June 2006), is available online at
5. National HMO Lobby Ten Point Plan (June 2006) proposes a multilateral approach to concentrations of HMOs.


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