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National HMO Lobby



Householder Development Consents Review

The Householder Development Consents Review was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, on 24 January 2005. It will examine the current requirements of the regulatory regimes for minor developments by householders such as house extensions, fencing, ancillary buildings, tree felling and pruning. Information is available on the HDCR page of the ODPM website.

The National HMO Lobby has responded as follows.

Response to Householder Development Consents Review

1 National HMO Lobby
The National HMO Lobby is an association of some three dozen community groups (some of which are federations themselves) in two dozen towns throughout the UK, who are concerned about the impact of concentrations of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) on our communities. We were formally established last year, but we have been campaigning as an informal network since 2000. Information about the Lobby is available on our website.

2 Households
The members of our member groups are of course themselves householders. As such they have mixed feelings about the proposals to ‘cut red tape’ for householder developments.
2.1 On the one hand, many have experienced frustration with the present regime. “I believe that the proposals might well benefit those who are not only the householders but also the occupiers, so as to accommodate those who have owned and lived in a house for at least 3-4 years and hope to continue there for the next 3-4 years making it home and not house improvement” [Coleraine]. Again, “as a resident I fully appreciate that people may well get fed up with having to fill in lots of forms and go through all the hoops in order to get planning permission for an extension, or whatever ... I still find the hair on the back of my neck going up when I recall the fuss the Council made when I said I want a fence at the front of the property (on top of my wall) in order to keep out students, litter, vandals, etc.” [Nottingham].
2.2 On the other hand, many nevertheless have reservations. “We have years of experience of looking at householder applications and many of them are dire - often made by draughtspersons working for PVC window makers and loft conversion companies ... these apparently trivial design decisions have, cumulatively, a considerable effect on the overall visual quality of urban residential areas. They may be small scale but they are 'in your face' to residents. Rear extensions, first floor roof terraces, large dormers etc, all can damage privacy of neighbours” [Bristol].
2.3 The consensus is that controls are essential. “As a resident, I don't want to find that my next door neighbour can get away with doing something without my knowing and having a fair chance at stopping him if what he proposes is not to my liking” [Nottingham].

3 Houses in Multiple Occupation
The Lobby’s primary concern however is the implications for HMOs. And here we are unanimous.
3.1 First of all, a distinction needs to be made between genuine householders, and landlords who rent houses as a business. “The immediate thing that leaps out at me is that I cannot find anywhere a good definition of 'householder' ... As far as I can see currently there is no separation between those who run residential accommodation as a business, i.e. landlord, hostel owner etc. and those who are owner occupiers ... It seems to me a little premature to 'relax' some of the current planning development controls when we are not sure exactly who we are relaxing them for?” [Loughborough].
3.2 Secondly, without appropriate controls, relaxation will only exacerbate the proliferation of HMOs. “From my very current experience with planning legislation and how it is affecting both ourselves, as residents, and Council officers as people trying to implement the Council's new policies, I think the last thing we want is a relaxation of the planning system so that landlords get an even easier run than they do now” [Nottingham]. “A property could be converted prior to HMO letting by the owner occupier to make it a more attractive sale to a landlord” [Birmingham]. “The problem we already have with Permitted Development Rights is that houses can be subdivided internally and extended, and front gardens concreted etc, without needing consent. Then often they become student HMO's!” [Bristol]. “It strikes me that in areas where maximising property occupancy is an obvious activity (eg HMO dominated areas) this [relaxation] could be far from beneficial – in that you could extend properties in ways that sought to prevent them becoming HMOs under the new definition (retain the number of storeys) – this would have significant negative impact on local amenity value (eg loss of gardens) which was what planning was supposed to be about protecting” [Nottingham].
3.3 Consequently, the problems generated by concentrations of HMOs are only likely to increase if development controls are relaxed. “Making loft extensions easier has one up-side. It usually puts HMO's into mandatory licensing. But, on balance the costs to the community are far higher - increased parking, poor visual amenity, higher student density, greater strain on local environment etc. The proposal does not make it a better place for either students or longer term residents” [Birmingham]. “The reality of such situations is that areas most at risk, often need the most protection by local or national government, because areas with long established articulate populations are often best at marshalling the arguments for protection – when those interest groups desert an area, the mindset that ‘it doesn’t matter what happens around there because no one cares’ is adopted by local people AND local public servants, although the latter would never admit it!” [Nottingham].

4 Recommendations
4.1 The National HMO Lobby does not support relaxation of householder development consents. “We have noticed a considerable increase in number of 'improvements' both with and without consent. This is because the boom in house values is funding it ... There may well be simpler ways of administering householder applications but our experience suggests that reducing scope of control is not justified. And maybe should be increased in Conservation Areas?” [Bristol]. “I guess what I'm saying is that I see no great merit in the idea, either as a resident in a 'normal' neighbourhood, or even more so, as a resident in a neighbourhood where studentification is rife” [Nottingham].
4.2 Certainly, the Lobby is adamant that relaxation should not be countenanced in the case of HMOs. “We would suggest putting a requirement for special consent for commercial letting purposes” [Birmingham]. The Lobby proposes a number of possible measures.
4.2.1 Most effective would be a distinction in planning law between a family home and a house in multiple occupation. We find it unfortunate in the extreme that we now have an adequate definition of HMO in housing law (in the Housing Act 2004) – but there is no matching planning definition. We regret that the Use Classes Order has recently been amended, and the opportunity was not taken to clarify the legal situation. (Indeed, only Northern Ireland in the UK has a common housing and planning definition of HMO.) Our principal recommendation is that family homes and HMOs are clearly distinguished, and the latter are excluded from any relaxation of development control which may be considered.
4.2.2 If this measure is not accepted, then the National HMO Lobby recommends that local planning authorities be enabled to designate areas, such as areas of concentrations of HMOs, which are excluded from any relaxation of development control. “It may be that in the spirit of the ‘new localism’ mentioned in the brief, they might give local authorities powers to designate areas where exemptions from permission could not apply” [Nottingham].
4.2.3 Finally, as a last resort, as it were, if all else fails, the National HMO Lobby recommends that development controls remain in place for all properties licensed under the provisions of the Housing Act 2004, including mandatory HMO licensing, additional HMO licensing, and selective licensing.

5 Conclusion
The National HMO Lobby therefore supports any measures to make applications for minor developments easier to use. But the Lobby has concerns about any general relaxation of development control. And the Lobby certainly opposes specifically any relaxation in the case of houses in multiple occupation. The Lobby would be pleased to receive notification of the outcome of the Householder Development Consents Review.

Dr Richard Tyler, Co-ordinator, National HMO Lobby, May 2005

Note: The DCLG (formerly ODPM) Steering Group for the Householder Development Consents Review published its Report in July 2006 The National HMO Lobby's submission is acknowledged in Annex 3. Our recommendation was: "The National HMO Lobby supports any measures to make applications for minor developments easier to use. But the Lobby has concerns about any general relaxation of development control. And the Lobby certainly opposes specifically any relaxation in the case of houses in multiple occupation." But the Report makes no reference whatsoever to HMOs.


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