Present:

As identified on the Attendance List

Alma Road

  • Peter Wirgman
  • Richard Soper
  • Sue Shennan
  • Mary Bryden
  • Steve Dorney

Avenue Road

  • Judith Payling

Earls Road

  • Richard Long

Gordon Avenue

  • Chris Hawthorn
  • Hilary Jackson

Highcliff Avenue

  • Margaret Chiari

Other attendees

  • Jerry Gillen, Highfield RA
  • PCSO Holly Knight
  • Cllr Asa Thorpe
  • Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews
  • Dr Chris Lyons, SCC
  • Rt Hon Dr Alan Whitehead

OARA Committee

  • Gordon Gillies (Chair)
  • T Jacobs (Membership Secretary)
  • Andy Haslehurst (Treasurer)
  • Sue Swallow (Planning Officer)
  • Barbara Matcham (Committee Member)
  • Chris Jackson (Committee Member)

Apologies:

  • Cllr Derek Burke, Phine Dahle, Rosy Maguire, Mary Hockey.

1. Welcome

Gordon opened the meeting by welcoming all of the attendees. The apologies were given.

For the benefit of new attendees, Gordon set out briefly what the aims of the RA are and our top four priorities namely:

  • Street cleaning
  • Greening the area
  • Planning applications
  • Working with landlords

Our own survey had identified that more than 50% of the houses in our area are already HMOs. The purpose of the meeting was to review the progress made after the Supplementary Planning Document was approved by the Council’s Cabinet on 23rd March 2012.

2. Planning Issues

Gordon then invited the Right Honourable Dr Alan Whitehead to address the meeting regarding the current thinking and proposed legislation regarding HMOs.

2.1 Dr ALAN WHITEHEAD

Alan Whitehead acknowledged that our plans for planning and landlords were ambitious endeavours in their own right, particularly around ensuring that planning changes were in place and then enforcing them.

Alan himself has worked on this for several years and noted that we have been badly served by Westminster legislation. HMOs are a particular problem for Southampton in comparison with other towns and cities on the south coast, given that we have a large transient population and two universities.

Both of our local MPs, John Denham and Alan himself, have fought to have the change from a family home to an HMO subject to a planning application. This would enable local councils to consider the impact on local communities and amenities before permission was granted.

In 2009, legislation was passed that required a register of all HMOs and planning permission for change of use. Unfortunately, this was overturned when the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition came to power in 2010.

In March 2012, the Supplementary Planning Document was introduced by the Council which set the percentage of HMOs in each of the city’s wards. In practice, it has been difficult to enforce because of the expense involved and the legality of the Article 4 Directive. The situation has been further complicated by the relaxation of the planning rules allowing 6m or 8m extensions without planning permission being required.

A number of landlords have extended their properties with the express purpose of further increasing their rental income. Alan objected to the initial proposals but there is no immediate prospect of the rules changing.

One new development that may have an impact is the construction of purpose built student accommodation blocks that will accommodate up to 2,000 students. The number of students in the city is now static which may result in a reduction in the number of HMOs as landlords divest themselves of empty properties.

Alan expressed his regrets that the situation was not better than it is, but hoped that the Council is able to enforce the rules. Unfortunately, it lost a recent case.

Alan then asked Cllr Asa Thorpe and Cllr Barnes-Andrews for their views.

2.2 Cllr Asa Thorpe

Cllr Thorpe thanked OARA for the invitation to the meeting. He acknowledged that HMOs are a problem all over the city. The 6m / 8m extension relaxation of the planning rules was overwhelmingly rejected by the Cabinet, but central government forced it through anyway.

The council is, however, going to introduce mandatory HMO licensing and HMO living standards for tenants and ban landlords’ “To Let” signs when the rules come into force. The landlords have succeeded in obtaining a judicial review of the council’s policy so it will not be implemented until October or November 13. Cllr Thorpe stressed the council’s and Cabinet’s commitment to HMO licensing.

Cllr Thorpe commented that enforcement continues to be an issue because of dwindling resources, but the situation may be improved because the Enforcement officers now report to the Head of Planning, so the policy and enforcement are in the same department.

2.3 Cllr Barnes Andrews

Cllr Barnes-Andrews reported that the council wants to have an influence over what happens to ex-HMOs, and how they are returned to family dwellings. He commented that the new student blocks have no parking facilities which will have a detrimental impact on on-street parking facilities. To counter this, the council is planning a series of cycle ways linking the student blocks to the university campuses.

2.4 Dr Chris Lyons (Head of Planning)

Gordon invited Chris Lyons to report on how enforcement of the new rules was progressing.

Chris responded that a recent development was that landlords now have to apply for planning permission if they wish to extend their properties by 6m or 8m. This is being communicated to them now.

He acknowledged that enforcement is very difficult but they will use our evidence of contravention to build cases against offending landlords. The building of a case has been further compounded by Data Protection issues for example looking at the council tax registers to verify the landlords claims of how many people are living in their properties.

Chris reiterated how important it is for the local community to be vigilant, and to complain where suspected contraventions are taking place. The council will then serve a Planning Contravention Notice (PCN) and use the evidence gathered by the community to enforce it. All complaints should clearly state what harm will result from another HMO coming into existence.

A brief discussion then took place on the progress of two cases in our area where the planning rules have been disregarded by the landlords. Both are hampered by lack of resources, given that the council has to save another £50 million on top of what it has already saved.

Cllr Thorpe was asked why the landlords don’t have to pay council tax on HMOs. Cllr Thorpe responded that the council is not allowed to levy council tax on such properties and there is no scope for changing the law on this.

Chris also said that it was hard to challenge planning applications if landlords are being economical with the truth.

2.5 Jerry Gillen, Highfield RA

Gordon invited Jerry Gillen for his views as he has been instrumental in the planning consultation process for many years.

Jerry welcomed the proposed HMO licensing scheme but noted that the main weakness is the lack of enforcement resources. He commented that the council needs to make an example of a landlord to send the clear message that the council is serious about preventing planning abuses. Even when residents have provided clear evidence of such abuse, it has made no difference. Cllr Thorpe responded that if residents come forward in good time, something can be done.

2.6 Other Comments

Hilary Jackson reported that HMOs have a huge daily impact on other residents in terms of wheelie bins, litter, noise, parking etc. OARA itself was doing its best to counter this by conducting the regular street cleans, but it would be good if the council could help. Cllr Thorpe thanked OARA for supporting the council’s cleaning efforts.

3 Conclusion

Gordon confirmed that OARA will press ahead, with Council support, to resist 2 properties in its area that have been changed to HMOs against the local law. Evidence will be provided for both properties to show that they were converted to HMO use after the 23rd March 2012 deadline.

Gordon concluded the meeting by thanking everyone for their attendance and contributions. He said that planning was a “work in progress” and that we all have a responsibility to remain vigilant. However, the proposed HMO licensing scheme may provide light at the end of the tunnel

3.1 Dates of next meetings

OARA General Meetings

  • Tuesday 25th June 13
  • Monday 14th October 13
  • Tuesday 21st January 14 AGM

OARA Committee Meetings

  • Monday 15th July 13
  • Tuesday 5th November 13
  • Monday 16th December 13