Council Consultation on giving more control over the growth in Houses in Multiple Occupation end date 8 March
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Croydon Council has finally accepted that its planning policies have led to ‘a gap’ in its approach ‘which is resulting in the loss of family homes, as well as other neighbour amenity issues, that need to be addressed to provide good quality housing for Croydon residents.’
The gap relates to the way it deals with Houses in Multiple Occupation. It did not the issue of multiple-occupation seriously during the preparation of and hearings about the Local Plan Inspection in 2016, despite representations by several objectors. While the Inspector found a way to probe the issue he was not empowered to require the Council to make a modification. The Council made one which at least acknowledged that HMOs were an issue when it decided to modify the emerging Plan with the addition of the following statement when referring to conversions or HMOs: “The council will take into account cumulative impact”.
Now it is consulting on introducing an Article 4 Direction to give more planning control over small houses in multiple occupation. Such Directions enable the Government’s general planning development rights to be stopped. There is no normal style consultation document, because the Council is stating what it intends to do no as opposed to setting out options. There is an evidence report on which people may comment. This states:
‘However, through the production and examination of the recently adopted Croydon Local Plan 2018 (Local Plan) it became apparent there is a gap in the process which allows a small HMO to be established without the need for planning permission that could be addressed by removing the permitted development right. The Local Plan, as an important strategic policy, seeks to prevent the loss of 3 or more bedroom family homes to meet the borough’s housing needs. As the Local Plan does not apply to permitted development and therefore the 3 bedroom policy cannot be implemented in these cases, this provides strong justification for the removal of permitted development right.’
Purpose of Article 4 Direction
The aim is to:
(1) To ‘ensure that any new proposed small HMOs are compliant with other planning issues, such as the Council’s bedroom space standards for HMOs and the provision of adequate bin storage’
(2) To ‘regulate living standards through planning permission …. helping to provide a better standard of living for residents who may reside in an HMO property in the future, potentially reduce the negative impacts of anti-social behaviour and to encourage families to remain in the borough by retaining our existing stock of family homes.’
Types of HMO
(1) ‘Use Class C4, which are small HMOs that are defined as the use of “a dwelling house between three and six unrelated individuals, used as their only or main residence, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen or bathroom”.’
(2) A large HMO ‘which is Use Class Sui-Generis. These are properties where there are seven or more occupants.
Type (2) would not be restricted by the Article 4 Direction as they require planning permission for a change of use as a change of use from Use Class C3 to Sui-Generis is not allowable under permitted development.
There is also non-planning HMO legislation (section 254, Housing Act 2004) requiring Type (2) to be licenced and subject to management standards.
Council Research Findings
(1) Owner occupation decreased to 59% of households (down 6%) 2001-11; no estimate on what has happened since.
(2) Private renting increased to 21% 2001-11; no estimate on what has happened since.
(3) The number of over-occupied properties increased 38% 2001-2011.
(4) Over the past 10 years Croydon has lost over 900 family homes to conversion and to large HMO properties.
(5) There is ‘a projected rapid decline in the stock of family homes’ due to ‘acute housing need and the inability for people to access home ownership due to local affordability rates’
(6) Affordability rates in Croydon ‘remain considerably worse than the national average’
(7) There are over 925 licensed HMOs.
(8) The number of people living in HMOs grew by 42% 2001-11
(9) Most common problems associated with some HMOs beyond that expected from a family home are: anti-social behaviour, noise, litter and management of refuse, excessive parking, fires, cramped living conditions, unkempt premises and overcrowding.
(10) The number of family homes lost under permitted development is not known.
(11) Since 2015 the Council’s HMO team has issued over 600 Improvement Notices to HMO properties.
(12) 222 planning complaints specifically referenced ‘HMO’;
(13) Over 400 complaints re-HMOs identified r flats/studios and over 150 complaints were identified for outbuildings.
(14) 21 counts of HMO specific related fire incidents in the borough since January 2015.
(15) ‘Over the past 5 years, there have been over 270 complaints reported to the Council in relation to noise, litter and anti-social behaviour associated with an HMO when the report incident states the property is an HMO.’
The Geography of HMOs
The Evidence report shows maps:
(1) with the HMOs – the ‘higher concentration areas reflect a higher housing density in the north of the borough compared to the south’;
(2) showing where over the last 10 years family homes in the borough are known to have been lost to conversion/change of use.
(3) the number of improvement notices served on HMOs.
The maps do not show the ward boundaries, nor state that HMOs are a particular problem in CR0 2, CR0 6, CR7 7, CR7 8 and CR0 3 postcode areas, despite these being included in the Council’s submission to the Local Plan Inspector.
The report does not set out the percentage of both types of known HMO of each ward’s housing stock, and whether there are concentrated small pockets in particular individual or clusters of streets.
most common problems associated with some HMOs beyond that expected from a family home’: anti-social behaviour, noise, litter and management of refuse, excessive parking, fires, cramped living conditions, unkempt premises and overcrowding.
Concerns during the Local Plan Examination
A number of witnesses at the Local Plan Inspector Hearings in 2016, including Love Norbury Planning Committee wanted greater protection of three-plus bedroom houses from being HMOs and being converted into flats. In addition to the loss of family housing, they drew attention to the adverse accumulative effects on the character of individual streets and neighbourhoods, including stress on local services due to increasing population living in multi-occupied houses.
Since those hearings it appeared that in its drive to meet housing targets regardless of the other aspects of planning policies and cumulative effects, the Council had not been listening.
Clearly, the message has hit home as the Council is arguing that ‘The introduction of an Article 4 Direction would require small HMOs to be considered through the Development Plan as it is necessary to apply Development Plan policies for design and neighbour amenity, such as providing refuse and storage facilities and managing car parking arrangements, to ensure a plan-led approach to the sustainable development of the borough and an appropriate balance between the need for HMOs and family housing.’
The Need for HMOs
The Council recognises that ‘the amount of housing stock used as HMOs will remain as a means to meet the needs of those who are unable to access homes to buy. There will also be continuing pressure on the existing housing stock to be converted to HMOs, as a way in which people are able to access accommodation. Therefore, whilst recognising that existing HMOs will continue to play a role in the housing market, there is a requirement to ensure that a stock of good quality family accommodation is available for residents in the long term, so that the objectives of the Local Plan can be achieved and housing supply is balanced across the borough.’
Protecting 3 bedroom houses
The Croydon Local Plan is based on the assessment ‘that to meet future housing needs over 20 years, approximately 50% of homes need to be delivered with 3 or more bedrooms.’
Policy SP2.7 sets ‘a strategic target for 30% of all new homes in Croydon up to 2036 to have 3 or more bedrooms to provide homes for existing and future families in Croydon.’
Policy DM1.2 on Housing Choice for Sustainable Communities ‘seeks to protect the loss of 3 bedroom homes (as originally built) or the loss of homes smaller than 130m2.’
Policy DM1.1 ‘requires that any new build development or conversions consisting of 10 or more units will need to provide a minimum percentage of 3 or more bedroom units as part of their scheme.’
Government changes re-HMOs
The trigger behind the new thinking has clearly been the October 2018 Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government new regulations under the Housing Act setting minimum sleeping room sizes for HMOs. ‘The regulations state that local housing authorities, through their statutory role through the Housing Act, must impose conditions as to the minimum room size which may be occupied as sleeping accommodation to reduce overcrowding in HMOs.’
The Government has taken a confusing view over HMOs in purpose built flats. If a purpose built flat is occupied by 5 or more people, and it is in block comprising of 2 flats, it will be licensable, built if in one with 3 or more flats, it will not be.
Mandatory HMO licensing will therefore apply to flats such as those above shops on traditional high street type locations but not large purpose built blocks of flats like tower blocks.
Implementation Date of Article 4 Direction
Type HMOs currently registered on the existing mandatory scheme will be transferred across the new Government approved scheme. Type 2 HMOs on the Council’s Private Rented Licensed register will also have to be subject to an application to be on the new mandatory scheme. That register comes to an end in September 2020, but it is not clear whether the Council plans to review its effectiveness and seek to extend it.
The aim is to have the Direction approved for a start date of 28 January 2020. ‘When the Article 4 Direction is in place, the planning application will be considered against Local Plan Policy SP2.8’. to ‘ensure adequate living standards for residents of Croydon, as new HMOs will be established through the plan-led process and will consider other policy requirements.’
Croydon’s HMO standards can be found here: https://www.croydon.gov.uk/housing/privatehousing/hmo/hmosafety
Concerns about the Council’s approach to HMOs
In their comments on the Council’s modification to Policy DM11 of the emerging Local Plan, Norman Cook and the Chatsworth Area Residents Association argued:
‘This statement has no measures or definition to support it i.e. what is meant by cumulative impact? presumably the number of conversions or HMOs in an area or street, but this is not quantified making the statement vague and open to many interpretations by planners, developers and residents. Therefore
- The proposed plan has not addressed residents concerns about high concentrations of HMOs .
- In contrast with other types of housing, the proposed plan does not provide any measures to ensure HMOs are considered in the overarching objective of the plan to provide balanced and sustainable communities. The proposed plan is therefore inconsistent and not objective.
- By not including measures for HMOs the plan fails to provide support for the objective in SP2 .’
They suggested that an addition policy be added Policy DM11.1 or SP2.7: ‘The cumulative number of HMOs should not exceed an average of 2 per hectare and a maximum of 10 in any area of 10 Hectare based on a rolling and overlapping basis of all streets in an area.’
My submission to the Council on private rented sector and HMOs in July 2017 can be read here.
It can be argued that while it is a welcome step the proposed Article 4 Direction there will continue to be problems with the accumulation of HMOs, because of the absence of a geographic limit on the number that can be allowed in neighbourhoods.
Possible consultation comments
A particular powerful way to give support to the proposed Article 4 Direction is for residents groups group sto submit evidence they have of the continued creep of HMOs in their areas, and to summarise their concerns in relation to planning applications effectively creating particularly Type 2 HMOs over the last two years, and the problems they have caused in their cumulative effect.