Clifton Down and Cotham councillors are trying to accelerate efforts to tighten controls on new HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation), the shared housing popular with students.
With the University of Bristol planning to bring thousands of additional students into the city over the next few years, there’s concern new HMOs might be created in residential areas that already have large student populations, as well as in areas near the new satellite campus at Temple Meads.
The city council wants to avoid “harmful concentrations” of HMOs by tightening up the criteria that planning applications must meet. “Sandwiching” will be banned, so that families don’t end up with an HMO either side of them. And new HMOs may be blocked if 10% of houses within a 100-metre radius of the address already have HMO status.
Efforts to bring in the new restrictions were derailed last year when the city council’s Local Plan Review ran into problems because a key component, the Joint Spatial Plan, was rejected by a government planning inspector. The Review will now have to be redone, leading to a lengthy delay. Without some action to rescue the HMO provisions, this would leave the council in a weak position to refuse HMO applications at a crucial time in the university expansion plans.
To free the blockage, councillors including Clive Stevens (Clifton Down) and Anthony Negus (Cotham) are now seeking to introduce the tighter HMO rules by way of a Supplementary Planning Document. In an email, Cllr Stevens gave a tentative timetable for the proposals: a Bristol-wide consultation in February/ March, processing of responses during the period spanning council elections in May, a final round of consultation in July/August, and a target for approval by the council’s executive cabinet in September.
He added: “Anthony Negus and I plan to organise an evening session in February or March, probably at Redland Library, to kick off the consultation locally. Then community groups can organise how they want to feed into the process.”
The council and the university have agreed that new students should be housed in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), now planned on several sites around the city. But the university has been unable to guarantee that all students will opt for the new accommodation, which could add to demand for HMOs.
In any case, not all of UoB’s expansion will take place at Temple Meads. Some of the newcomers will be taught at the main campus centred on Tyndall Avenue, whose students typically occupy nearby rented housing in their second and third years.
Separately, the city council’s planning department is also looking at the possibility of adding new conditions when HMOs receive planning approval. These would be in the form of a “premises management plan” that the landlord would have to abide by, covering such things as household waste disposal but also supervision aimed at minimising anti-social behaviour by tenants. However, these discussions are still at an early stage.
Cllr Stevens favours the idea if questions of enforceability can be resolved. “I am still waiting for Planning (or anyone) to show me how you can enforce the condition ‘no noise to be heard outside the premises after 11pm’. I raised the issue last year and they still don’t have an answer and it’s holding up at least three planning applications.”
Any such conditions would be on top of those imposed by HMO licensing, which is a parallel but separate process—HMOs must have both planning permission and a licence.
Cllr Negus has recently highlighted an emerging problem with this system of dual certification. The council’s push to require licensing for small HMOs as well as large ones has brought to light that many small HMOs have never had planning permission.
'We must object'
Although landlords can apply for retrospective permission, Cllr Stevens wants planning officers to take a stricter approach to such applications. Plans to discuss this at a recent meeting were postponed for lack of time, but he said: “It is on the agenda, which is a start.”
Cllr Negus comments: "The Article 4 directions and Local Plan of 2011 for which I was responsible as Cabinet Member largely stopped the unrestricted conversion of family houses to HMOs. I campaigned for the new licensing scheme that now broadens the HMO definition [to smaller properties] but it is flushing out previously unknown premises. We must watch out for and object to retrospective planning (and licensing!) applications that seek to legitimise non-compliance."
(See the second link: "Site Allocations and Development Management Policies" and go to the section “Policy DM2: Residential Sub-divisions, Shared and Specialist Housing”, starting on page 7, with particular reference to sub-sections (i) and (ii) on page 8.)