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Letter: Permission For More Houses of Multiple Occupation Is a Problem for Guildford

Published on: 28 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 28 Jul, 2015

Private Rented Sector @ Argyle St, HMO, L'Derry. Aug 2006From Bernard Parke

Hon alderman and former mayor

I am sure  many of us share the concern felt by the those living  in the Ashenden Estate when a recent planning application, involving student lets in Beech Grove, came before the Guildford Borough Council planning committee and was approved to the dismay of many residents.

Such concern exists not only because it is for another house in multiple occupation (HMO), and the inherent problems that such houses tend to generate, but because it has a direct effect on the quality of life in general.

Unfortunately, this is not just a growing problem in the Ashenden Estate; it is a problem which is spreading throughout the whole town area of Guildford.

Not only are affected areas becoming run down in appearance, they are also putting pressure on the borough services which, of course, in turn, does not help to keep down council tax.

However, the chair of GBC’s planning committee, Cllr Marsha Moseley (Con, Ash Vale), has said that: “Whether this is an HMO or not is not a relevant material planning consideration.”

Cllr Marsha Moseley has responded:

To clarify, the planning application to which Mr Parke refers was an extension to a residential dwelling.

As Mr Parke  must know, having been a former member of Guildford Borough Council (GBC), the planning committee is quasi-judicial and members are obliged, whether they like it or not, to make their decisions based on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the polices in the GBC Local Plan.

These policies clearly set out what material planning considerations are, and there are many.

Failure to adhere to the policies can result in decisions being appealed against and risks the danger of having an appellant’s costs awarded against the council. This can run into thousands of pounds of what, of course, is council taxpayer’s money. Councillors must be mindful of this when making decisions.

As chairman of the planning committee, one of my roles is to facilitate the debate and remind members, on occasions, of what they can and cannot consider when reaching a decision.

During the debate on the Ashenden Estate application, the issue of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) was introduced. This is not a material planning consideration and I pointed this out to members, so that they did not consider this when reaching a decision on whether to approve or refuse the application.

Indeed, it is also worth noting that this was fully supported by other councillors present including councillors Gunning [Lab, Stoke] and Spooner [Con, Ash South & Tongham]; the former actually saying that it did not matter if there was a family of 10 living in the dwelling, it was irrelevant to what the committee was considering.

I hope this makes the position clear and why I made the comments that I did.

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Responses to Letter: Permission For More Houses of Multiple Occupation Is a Problem for Guildford

  1. Bernard Parke Reply

    July 28, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    May I thank Cllr Mosley, through the columns of The Guildford Dragon NEWS, for clarifying the situation as it now stands.

    Yes, it is true that I have not only served on the planning committee and been involved in local affairs here in Guildford for several decades, but I have never over those many years known such a situation as we now experience.

    We see many houses that were once family homes being converted into little more than multiple sleeping quarters, and there seems to no overall plan to consider the effect that this is having on the quality of life of residents.

    Yes, there is an HMO scheme, but I understand that to subscribe to it is voluntary.

    If this is correct surely it should be made mandatory.

  2. Roland McKinney Reply

    July 29, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    My reading of the 2003 Local Plan forces me to disagree with Cllr Moseley, in that the impact of this as a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) should have been considered. Take, for example, from the 2003 Local Plan
    Section 5 Housing, page 39
    “Policy H7 CONVERSIONS
    Planning permission will be granted for the conversion of houses into additional dwellings, houses in multiple occupation or hostels provided that:
    1. There is no detrimental impact on the character of the area;
    2. Amenity and space standards are adequate;
    3. Provision is made for car parking on site in accordance with the council’s parking standards.”

    Bernard Parke’s comments make it clear that there can be considerable detrimental impacts associated with HMOs. Section 5 includes the paragraph
    “5.34 The conversion of large houses into small units offers an important potential source of accommodation for smaller households. Any such development would need to ensure that there is adequate amenity space and car parking to create an attractive residential environment and avoid any detrimental effect on the amenities of the occupiers of neighbouring properties.”

    Would this extension and conversion to an HMO create an attractive residential environment, bearing in mind the following statement from the 2003 Local Plan?

    “Section 3 The Planning Strategy for Guildford Borough
    3.27 The amenities of occupants will be given a high priority, and development which adversely affects existing occupiers will be resisted.”

    Again, Bernard Parke’s comments suggest that this development would adversely affect local residents, so the presence of an HMO should have been a material consideration.

    Planning policies from the NPPF were also said by Cllr Moseley to prevent the use of the property from being considered, but again a quick scan of the NPPF suggests this is not the case. Consider, for example, the planning policies set out the section

    “Requiring Good Design”
    Paragraph 58 sets out requirements and includes the statement
    “Planning policies and decisions should aim to ensure that all developments:……
    • Create safe and accessible environments where crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine quality of life or community cohesion….”

    I’m not going to accuse students of bringing crime into an area, but some degree of disorder is not uncommon. Did this application lend itself to reinforcing or undermining community cohesion? Again, Bernard Park’s comments suggest that existing community cohesion is likely be undermined. So again, under the NPPF, the use of the building should be a planning consideration influencing planning decisions, and should have been considered.

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