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  • Andrew Waller

Cotham Vale resident seeks help opposing HMO application

(Updated 03/02/2020 in third and ninth paragraphs to reflect deadline extension to Feb. 19 and latest tally of objections.)

A Cotham Vale resident is asking for support in preventing the house next door receiving planning approval as an HMO (House of Multiple Occupation).

Sarah Cuthill says more than 40% of properties in the street are already designated as HMOs, and the point of licensing was to ensure that “overburdened areas like ours are afforded some protection”.

She’s asking people to register objections with the city planning department by February 19. Her letter to residents appears at the end of this article.

Other residents have also come out against the application. Their attempt to defeat it is likely to become one of a series of such actions triggered by the city council’s decision last year to require all HMOs to be licensed.

While all HMOs have had to have planning approval in recent years, only large ones housing five or more people needed to have an HMO licence—until last year. The push to license smaller HMOs as well is now revealing that some never had planning approval. Cotham councillor Anthony Negus has recently forecast there will be a flurry of such cases coming to light.

'Noise and litter'

The Cotham Vale application seeks retrospective permission for a change of use that happened last summer. Sarah Cuthill says the property has “operated as an HMO without approval since June 2019, during which time the tenants have created considerable noise and litter problems.”

Most HMOs in Redland and Cotham are occupied by university students. In this case, the tenants are described in the application documents as “4 young professional sharers”. The applicant says he and his family used to live in the property, but had to move last year for work reasons. He acknowledges that the change of use of the property occurred without planning consent.

The application, reference 19/05830/F, is viewable on the council’s planning website.

More than 30 objections have been registered so far, including from local residents' groups. One objector says: “Cotham Vale is swamped in term time, a ghost street out of term time. The community is fast vanishing—we are one of just four remaining families with young children. Rubbish strewn, bottles smashed, noise throughout late evening into early morning. Shouting, arguments, etc. The road is effectively a hall of residence for Bristol University. And the language—worse than attending Bristol City FC.”

No reward

Cllr Negus has also registered an objection, and is calling for the application to be discussed by councillors.

His submission says: “It is important that planning committee members are given the opportunity to examine this case as a precedent for a number of similar retrospective applications that will come forward in the next few months that seek to regularise actions taken that are not in accordance with the city’s planning requirements and that have been exposed by the new licensing process. There needs to be a clear indication shown in a public meeting that this council’s response will not be to reward such behaviour.”

Failure to get planning consent before work or a change of use commences isn’t necessarily a barrier to obtaining retrospective permission. An 8-person HMO in All Saint’s Road, BS8, received retrospective permission in October despite 14 objections from individuals, Bristol Civic Society and Clifton Down Community Association.

Its approval has resulted in two HMOs (an existing one and the new one) “sandwiching” a non-HMO property—a practice the council is seeking to ban under proposals for tighter restrictions on new HMOs. Officers cannot apply the rule to current applications, however, because it doesn’t yet form an official part of the council’s planning policy.

The reference for the All Saint’s application (now granted) is 19/03539/F. See here for an officer’s report giving reasons for the approval.

Related articles:

(If the two planning links above fail to work, go to the planning portal, click search, and enter the relevant reference number in the search box.)

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Sarah Cuthill's letter in full:

"Dear Neighbours and local residents,

"Houses of Multiple Occupation in Cotham Vale

"Our small road currently includes 17 properties which hold licences to operate as Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO). This is an overall percentage of over 40% of the houses on the street. On the evens side this rises to over 54%. Mandatory licensing has been put in place by the council to ensure that overburdened areas like ours are afforded some protection against further changes.

"Nevertheless, 24 Cotham Vale has operated as an HMO without approval since June 2019, during which time the tenants have created considerable noise and litter problems. As a result of complaints the landlord has now put in an application, ref 19/05830/F https://planningonline.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=Q1XQR2DNKZA00

"Please support our street by objecting to the application before the deadline of 3rd February, in order to stem the imbalance between transient and permanent residents. It has been well-demonstrated for years that HMOs are likely to be less well-maintained, generate more litter and noise, threaten degradation of the environment and contribute less to the community.

"This is not an attack on individuals, tenants or landlords, but a concern about the cumulative effects of this change of use."

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