Planning – Development Management
Department for Communities and Local Government
th7 July 2010
A response from the Planning Officers Society
Houses in Multiple Occupation: Consultation on changes to planning rules
The Planning Officers’ Society represents the most senior professionals and managers of planning functions in the English local authorities. We set out to:
; Act as an advocate and promoter of Local Government planning;
; Assist and advise the Government and the Local Government Association on
planning matters and related issues;
; Act as a centre of excellence, undertake research and promote best practice
in planning matters;
; Promote all aspects of the built and green environment by working closely
with other organisations and professions.
The Society’s aim is to ensure that planning makes a major contribution to achieving sustainable developments, from national to local level, in ways which are fair and equitable and achieve the social, economic and environmental aspirations of all sectors of the community.
thThank you for your letter dated 17 June 2010 asking for comments on the proposed
amendment to planning legislation regarding Houses in Multiple Occupation. The Planning Officers Society has some concerns with the Government’s intention to amend legislation so that a change of use from a C3 dwellinghouse to a C4 HMO will become permitted development, requiring local authorities to introduce Article 4 Directions to control the spread of small HMOs within their area. We have provided
a response to the specific questions which you have asked below, but as a general point the Society feels that there should be formal consultation with local authorities and other organisations before making this change. The amendment to the Planning Use Classes Order in April this year was the result of a thorough evidence gathering and consultation process which showed an overwhelming preference for managing problems associated with high concentrations of HMOs through planning controls, in the way which was introduced in April. This contrasts to the current proposals which are only undergoing a very limited ‘informal consultation’, which the Planning
Officers Society does not feel gives the opportunity for all parties to give their views.
The responses below are felt to be representative views of the majority of local planning authorities in England, however the Society is aware that some members might not share these, and would anticipate that this will be apparent in any individual responses which local authorities may make to CLG.
; Do you consider that the proposals will allow local areas to take action
without imposing unnecessary burdens on unaffected areas?
The Planning Officers Society does not consider that the current approach is too burdensome for local authorities which are unaffected by either high concentrations of HMOs or who do not experience any problems with this if they do have high concentrations. Obviously, if there are few proposals for HMOs within their area they will have a correspondingly low level of applications to deal with, and if they do receive applications but have a presumption in favour of HMOs then it would not be too difficult or time consuming to approve these.
However for local areas who do wish to control the spread of HMOs the proposals would make this more complex and time consuming. If an Article 4 Direction applies to a tightly defined geographical area which equates only to areas with high concentrations of HMOs then there is a risk that this would merely displace problems elsewhere. Therefore it is likely to be necessary for local authorities to issue Article 4 Directions which cover a wider area. It would be necessary to review the boundaries frequently, and any resulting changes to the Article 4 Direction would take a long time to come into force each time. Additionally, the current legislative framework governing the use of Article 4 Directions is designed to be used to control a problem which is already in evidence in a defined area rather than in anticipation of dealing with an issue before it becomes a problem. The Society would therefore wish to seek reassurance from the Government that it would be possible for local authorities to introduce an Article 4 Direction to cover an area which does not currently have a high concentration of HMOs. This uncertainty for local authorities could be reduced if the Government were to amend DoE Circular 9/95, which states in Appendix 5 that directions should only be made in exceptional circumstances where it can be justified that there is a real and specific threat.
Using an Article 4 Direction to control HMOs would mean that there would be a cost for local authorities to process these applications as applications required under an Article 4 Direction do not generate a fee income.
; If not, why not? What do you think could be done, within the constraints of
the current planning framework instead?
The Planning Officers Society feels that the current planning regime regarding HMOs is the best way to control the spread of HMOs. However, it could be amended to give more flexibility to landlords by amending existing legislation so that a property which has been established as a C4 use (i.e. it could be proved that it had been used in this way for a defined number of years e.g. ten) could be temporarily used as C3 for a maximum period of, perhaps, one or two years, and could then be used as a C4 without requiring planning permission.
; Do you think there will be unintended consequences as a result of the
proposed changes? If so what will they be and how do you think they could
The Government’s proposals to amend the compensation provisions for Article 4 Directions will mean that local authorities would need to give notice of the withdrawal of permitted development rights for a year to avoid being at risk of paying compensation. There is a risk that this might lead to an upsurge in changes of use from C3 to C4 during this time. This could be mitigated if the Government removed local authority’s liability for compensation completely, or at least reduced the requirement to perhaps six months notice at most.
Local authorities would be unable to monitor changes in the number and concentration of C4 HMOs within their area as they would no longer be aware that changes of use were taking place. This could be mitigated by drawing changes of use to the local authority’s attention in another way, for example by introducing
mandatory licensing of Class C4 HMOs. However, this could in fact be more of a burden to landlords than the current requirement for planning permission.
; Do you think there are any other changes which need to be made to make
this approach work more effectively, e.g. to HMO definition?
The Planning Officers Society feels that the current definition of a HMO should be retained as this is in line with the definition in the Housing Act. An Article 4 Direction approach could be made more effective by reducing the twelve month period which local authorities need to give to avoid the risk of paying compensation. This would reduce the delay which would be faced by local authorities who wished to make Directions.
As noted earlier, it would be helpful if Circular 9/95 were to be amended to reduce uncertainty for local authorities regarding the use of Article 4 Directions. Whilst the Society does not support the Government’s proposal that local authorities use Article 4 Directions to deal with this issue, it does feel that if this route is followed it is crucial that the Government provides assistance to local authorities to ensure that the Article 4 Directions are robust and fit for purpose.
; Do you have any information on costs/benefits which would be relevant to
The Planning Officer’s Society does not have any comments to make regarding the impact assessment.
; Do you think that LPAs will choose to issue Article 4 Directions with
immediate effect or less than 12 months notice?
The Society considers that it is very unlikely that local planning authorities would issue a Direction with less than 12 months notice as, under current legislation, this would make them liable for compensation.
; How should we monitor the impact of these proposals and assess their
success? What is the best review approach?
As noted previously, it would not be possible to monitor the spread of HMOs under the new proposals therefore it would be impossible to monitor their success, apart from through discussions with local authorities, communities and landlords.
; Do you have any comments on the legislation as drafted?
The Society has no comments on the draft legislation.
For and on behalf of the Planning Officers’ Society
Broadland District Council, Thorpe Lodge, 1 Yarmouth Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR7 ODU
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