Credit to the Government (I hope)

As readers will know, I believe that there has not been enough of a response to public concern about the growth of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). To the credit of the Government, there has been some consultation on this matter.

In the past couple of weeks, the Government has confirmed its intention to amend planning legislation in relation to houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

The letters that have gone out have also said the following:

“In the light of the responses to the consultation and the findings of earlier research, it has been decided to amend the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 (as amended) to introduce a specific definition of a HMO.  This will mean that, in future, a material change of use from a dwelling house which falls within use class C3, to a new use class for HMOs (C4) would require planning permission.

At the same time as amending the Use Classes Order, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended) will be amended to provide that a change from a HMO back to the C3 class (dwelling house) will not require planning permission.

The consultation indicated that any definition introduced would be based on that contained in the Housing Act 2004.  In the interests of clarity and consistency we have decided to align the definition in planning legislation and housing legislation as closely as appropriate.

It is recognised that this change is likely to mean an increase in planning applications but there is a real need to intervene to help local planning authorities tackle this specific problem. The consultation responses and research work have indicated that good practice alone cannot solve the problems encountered in a number of communities. This measure will enable local planning authorities to identify new HMOs with more certainty and target specific areas where there is a need to restore community balance.

We intend to bring forward the necessary secondary legislation in time for it to come into force on 6 April 2010.  Further guidance to local planning authorities will be issued at that time.”

Some further questions will be asked regarding Hounslow as we have an additional licensing scheme that goes beyond mandatory provisions in terms of scope (two storey HMOs in five wards need to be licensed).  I wonder whether this Planning Authority would be able to count those HMOs that only come under the additional licensing as HMOs requiring Planning Permission, especially as these are the HMOs that have had the biggest cohesion impacts on our Borough.

This issue was raised by Dr Alan Whitehead yesterday at Prime Ministers Questions.  This MP deserves a lot of credit for being more vocal about this matter than any other MP has been.  Here is his attempted Private Members Bill in 2007.  If I was picky about Dr Whitehead it is the focus on ‘studentification’ because I think the impacts he talks about are the same no matter what the HMO may comprise of.  I do not knock him for his because he is reflecting on his constituency.

Here is another worthwhile debate.

I have never known an issue where there exists such a dichotomy between the concerns of residents and the response of politicians.  That gap – with this announcement – has narrowed.  For this, the Government deserve credit.  However, the key question is above and is the answer is negative then this will not have the positive impact that it could.

I do not understand why there is such silence on the matter amongst most politicians.  Lots speak of Community Cohesion and in making our cities and urban areas stronger.  They also talk about the need for new housing.  Why then is there such a lack of focus on the loss of family housing and with it the loss of families.  An economy in a London Borough like ours needs an element of transience but it needs strong & stable communities also.

The response from a lot of Conservative friends (not too much in Hounslow I would add) is to disagree with my view on this matter.  They claim that limiting the amount of HMOs would lead to an increase in homeless applications.  They say it is unnecessary Government interference.  On the first, I do not believe that such evidence exists and that most living in HMOs in Hounslow are in employment and it is unlikely that the Government will have any duty to house them.  With the second, I believe in the free market but do not worship the free market.  There are times when rules and regulations need to be in place.  Public opinion is with me on that.

I am not aware of any of the other bloggers talking about this announcement.

As for the future, I hope that this becomes a central part of the housing debate!

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