New planning guidance that could help limit the ‘over concentration’ of HMOs in any one area have been backed by councillors.
Over recent years Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) have become a hugely contentious issue – with an increase in the number of application submitted to Wrexham Council proposing residential and former office / retail space are converted into HMOs.
The issue has been particularly prominent in the six town centre wards – Brynyffynnon, Erddig, Grosvenor, Maesydre, Offa and Smithfield. This has prompted the six town centre councillors to come together with the aim of strengthening planning guidance.
Current ‘Local Planning Guidance Note’ for dealing with HMOs was adopted in February 1993 and revised in June 2004.
However a report presented to Executive Board members last Tuesday, notes that the guidance “currently lacks specific criteria for determining whether there is an over concentration of HMOs in a given area and for the provision of outdoor amenity space”.
In a bid to resolve issues with clusters and over concentration of HMOs, Executive Board members last week unanimously backed plans to adopt new planning guidance.
The new guidance will limit HMOs to 10% within a 50 metre radius of the boundaries of the application site. Where concentration is more than 10%, “planning permission will not normally be granted unless there are relevant material planning considerations to justify doing so”.
It also provides criteria that will be used to discourage the development of clusters of HMOs within individual streets. This would be achieved by “a gap of at least two dwellings or other buildings not in use as a HMO between a proposed HMO and any existing HMO”.
This will enable the planning committee to consider community needs in assessing planning permissions.
At last week’s meeting Lead Member for Planning and Corporate Services, Cllr David Kelly, acknowledged that the previous plan is considered “no longer fit for purpose” due to lack of specific criteria on over concentration of HMOs and provision of outdoor space.
He added: “I know certain members have had longstanding issues with HMOs and the concentration.
“I believe the work done in consultation with town centre members goes a long way to address a lot of the issues.”
The planning guidance relates to applications across the county borough, however it is noted in last week’s meeting report that a series of meetings had been held with town centre councillors as they represent the areas where the “vast majority of existing HMOs are situated and where there is greatest demand for new HMOs”.
Councillor Marc Jones, who represents the Grosvenor ward, has previously described the situation with HMOs as “frustrating” and a “catch 22”.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jones said: “We want to ensure a mix of housing – owner occupier, private rented, council housing and HMOs.
“The situation in some neighbourhoods and streets is that HMOs are dominating and that can cause problems in terms of transient populations, overcrowding, parking issues, poor amenity space and, in a minority of situations, anti-social behaviour.
“As councillors representing those areas most affected by HMOs, we have pushed officers to strengthen guidelines. We haven’t achieved what we hoped for with this guidance but it is a step in the right direction. We will review and monitor the effectiveness of the new guidance to see whether it does have the intended effect.”
During last week’s meeting Cllr Jones also spoke on behalf of a cross-party support group of the six town centre councillors, who recently met Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths to stress the importance of Welsh Government support for new guidance.
They also highlighted the need for the Planning Inspectorate, nominally under Welsh Government control, to allow local councils to make decisions affecting local communities.
Cllr Jones added: “What we’ve seen in too many cases is that the local planning committee makes a decision, the landlord appeals to the Planning Inspectorate appeals and that is upheld. That’s not local democracy at work and it undermines the whole point of having a planning committee.
“We need to make sure the message will get through to Cardiff that our communities are a very fragile balance and the wrong decisions can have a huge impact on streets and neighbourhoods.
“HMOs have increased because many people don’t have any other option and that’s an indictment of how affordable homes aren’t being built.
“Councils such as Wrexham haven’t built a home for rent for a generation, although that will change later this year as the council starts to build again.
“These will start to replace the 10,000 council houses sold off since 1980 in Wrexham alone.”