Now is our moment! The government is thinking of changing the rules on HMOs (houses in multiple occupation, or shared houses) – and they are asking us what we think! Now we have a chance to tip the balance in favour of residents.
Oldfield Park’s problem is HMOs. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a house, as such. But there’s something seriously wrong with a neighbourhood where most of the houses are HMOs.
This is now the case in the neighbourhoods in and around Oldfield Park. Few live in HMOs for very long, so what this means is a constantly changing population. Constant change breaks the links on which communities depend. As HMOs increase, community spirit decreases. There are now many streets in Oldfield Park where temporary tenants outnumber longer term residents. The results are all too obvious in the changes that have overtaken these neighbourhoods in the last decade or two.
But it’s not only our area which is affected. Most university towns now have concentrations of HMOs. And not only these – there are huge problems in seaside towns where guest-houses have been turned into HMOs, and in many market towns gangmasters have bought up HMOs for seasonal workers.
As a result, residents groups from all over the country have joined the National HMO Lobby, a network of community associations pioneered by the Leeds HMO Lobby. Locally the Bath Federation of Residents Assoications are members. In addition, there is a parallel national group of local councillors, of which Cllr Shaun McGall is a member. Don Foster, our MP here in Bath, is a member of the parliamentary Group working on these issues.
Together we all have campaigned for ten years to get government nationally to bring in legislation which will enable government locally to resist concentrations of HMOs. We helped to bring in licensing of HMOs with the Housing Act 2004, and the highly successful voluntary local accreditation scheme for HMOs
But licences and accreditation schemes don’t resist HMOs – for this, new planning legislation is needed.
At the moment no permission is needed to convert a family house to a HMO – so anyone can do so, landlords, buy-to-let investors, student parents … There’s nothing the Council can do without new powers. So we has been campaigning for a change to the Use Classes Order, the relevant regulation. Colleagues in Loughborough, Nottingham and Southampton have shown ministers what the problems are in their areas. So last year, we got the government to commission a report on HMOs – and this recommended consultation on new legislation. This year, in May, the government published a consultation paper: click here. click here.
The consultation paper agrees that concentrations of HMOs cause problems. It suggests three courses of action, and is seeking the views of the public on these.
Option 1 is to rely on existing ‘good practice’, like the things we’ve done in Bath to try to tackle the problem – but we know it doesn’t work!
Option 2 is to change the Use Classes Order, so that HMOs need planning permission – this is obviously what is needed, and what we’ve campaigned for so long. On its own it won’t solve the problem, but it is essential to prevent it getting any worse, here and elsewhere.
Option 3is a complicated proposal to allow HMOs anywhere at all – except where the government agrees to give special powers to councils in limited areas (Article 4 Directions). This is basically unworkable.
We have until 7 August to persuade the government to act on Option 2.
What can you do to help?
Cllr Shaun McGall and Cllr Will Sandry will be writing to the government of course. So will other local Lib Dem councillors in Bath. So will Don Foster, our MP here in Bath. So too can you, the more voices the better!
- First of all, below there should be a model letter to send to the government. All you need do is add your address, give an idea of some of the problems you have had – and sign and send it!
- If you would like to write your own letter or email, please do. Contact Cllr Shaun McGall for background info.
- Also, encourage you neighbours to write. And lobby the Council to write in. Contact Cllr Shaun McGall if you need details.
The email address for replies is:
UCOHMOConsultation@communities.gsi.gov.uk (subject: HMO Consultation);
The postal address is:
Planning System Improvement Division,
Department for Communities and Local Government,
The deadline is 7 August 2009.