Planning matters: Taking notice

September 01 2019
Planning matters: Taking notice

With Chris Gosling

I SUSPECT that not that many people take the trouble to look at a notice attached to a lamppost. I tend to make the effort and have found that, as a general rule, the further the notice is from where I live, the less interesting it is. When closer to home, these notices are much more likely to have a direct bearing on the reader. Just the other day, one attached to a lamppost in Fishponds Road piqued my curiosity. It may well be replicated close to where you live, as it carried an announcement of the city council’s intention to introduce an Article 4 direction, which concerns the creation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) from standard houses in the wards of Hillfields, Eastville and Frome Vale amongst others in East Bristol. It was posted at the start of August and allowed up to the 23rd to comment on the proposal.

An Article 4 Direction, once confirmed, has the effect of removing the right to pursue certain forms of development that would normally not require planning permission. In regard to houses becoming HMOs, it is not generally a step that is taken lightly. As you might expect, there is no extra funding provided by the government for implementing such a measure. The government has to be notified at the same time as the locals.

Those with a healthy allergy to jargon may be wondering what an HMO is? It is a house where people who aren't from the same family live together, sharing some of the facilities. The typical arrangement would be a ‘student house’. Under normal circumstances, a standard one-family house could be converted into an HMO without the need to apply for planning permission, ie without the council or public having a say in the matter. In areas like Redland and Filton, close to growing universities, the locals will tell you of the difficulties that can be caused: family housing with up to five bedrooms along whole streets can become fully populated. This is not a problem in theory, as the houses were designed to have all of the bedrooms occupied - but not with most of the occupants having their own car. There is also the problem in the summer of the street becoming a ‘ghost town’.

Of course it is not the case that all HMOs are occupied by students, but the occupiers of an HMO are much of the time transient, with little stake in what happens around them. I do not wish to stigmatise people who live in HMOs but it is a form of accommodation people tend to select out of financial necessity, not by choice. They have their benefits, but in planning terms the issue is balancing the types of accommodation in order to achieve a mixed and balanced community, and avoiding creating areas where only one part of the population can live.

Even if the Article 4 direction is confirmed, each case has to be treated on its own merits. Refusing an application which is in danger of tipping the balance will require sound reasoning, backed by a policy which itself has been the subject of public scrutiny. For that reason, an Article 4 direction is only the first step in the process, but that first step could well have been made by the time you read this.