‘Nightmare’ loophole means councillors cannot refuse planned HMOs in Filton - despite strong opposition

Maximum number of HMOs do not take into account unauthorised conversion and shared properties with fewer than five people

<p>Plans to turn this property in Braemar Crescent into an HMO have been met with objections</p>

Plans to turn this property in Braemar Crescent into an HMO have been met with objections

New rules that were supposed to protect neighbourhoods from being swamped by bedsits are failing, frustrated councillors say.

South Gloucestershire Council introduced a policy in September limiting how many family homes could be turned into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in the same area.

But a loophole in the new supplementary planning document (SPD) means only licensed HMOs can be taken into account when deciding applications and that both unauthorised conversions and shared properties with fewer than five people, which do not require a licence, are excluded.

The issue came to light at a meeting of the development management committee where members ended up deadlocked over plans for an eight-bedroom HMO in Filton, with objections from 39 residents, both the Labour and Conservative ward councillors and the town council.

Filton ward South Gloucestershire Labour Cllr Adam Monk told the meeting that the “utterly abhorrent” proposed change of use of 15 Braemar Crescent would create noise and disturbance, exacerbate parking problems, was out of keeping with the area and had windows overlooking neighbours.

Plans to turn this property in Braemar Crescent into a bed sit have been met with objections

He said the maximum threshold in the SPD for concentration of bedsits in a locality was 10 per cent of households but that this part of Filton had 11.2 per cent.

Tory ward Cllr Christopher Wood said more than 40 per cent of South Gloucestershire’s HMOs were in Filton.

“The application provides just four car parking spaces for an eight-bedroom HMO on an already congested road, without a bus link, where vehicles often park dangerously on the pavement due to a lack of on-street parking,” he said.

“For these four parking spaces to be achieved, two existing off-street parking spaces have to be removed, garden walls knocked down and existing gardens concreted over.

“The application is clearly overdevelopment of the property on a road which is substantially made up of family dwellings.”

A letter from residents read out at the committee on Thursday, February 3, said: “The street has real community spirit. This is a street where children play outside.

“The increase in traffic is a huge safety concern and the noise pollution which is common in HMO properties will have a profound effect on the community.

“Like many residents in Filton, we feel like we are fighting a losing battle. We already have more HMOs on average but yet more are approved.”

Aerial view of Braemar Crescent in Filton - 11.2 per cent of households in Filton are HMOs

But planning officers recommended giving the go-ahead and said the application complied with policies, including the SPD.

Councillors were told licensed HMOs represented only 1.3 per cent of households in the locality and there was only one within a 100m radius.

The officer said it was also not possible to refuse on grounds of neighbours’ loss of privacy because that issue had already been considered in the autumn when consent was granted under separate applications for a side and rear extension and loft conversion.

Members heard the council required a minimum of 0.5 car parking spaces per bedroom for an HMO and that four were being provided on site.

A transport officer said it was unusual for an HMO application to fully comply with parking standards and that because he could not support refusal on those grounds, the authority was at risk of having costs awarded against it at appeal.

Cllr Ernie Brown said: “I’m finding it difficult to get my head around the officer’s recommendation for approval.

“We spent a year talking about an SPD. It has obviously been ignored in this case.

Councillor Earnie Brown said: “I’m finding it difficult to get my head around the officer’s recommendation for approval."

“The SPD was supposed to help with guidance on this and it just hasn’t done anything.”

He said the proposals breached planning policy because they would change the character of the area.

Cllr Katie Cooper said HMO applications that came to committee were “depressing” because they usually involved properties in Filton and came with plenty of local opposition – but that if members did what residents were asking and refused consent, that was often overturned on appeal.

“I really can’t see how we can possibly vote against this even though I would love to,” she said.

Cllr Brian Hopkinson said: “It’s a nightmare because we turn these things down, they go to appeal and they get granted.

“I’m not happy about what we’ve managed to achieve over the last 15 years when we’ve tried to get this changed.

“We’ve just allowed the dynamic to change there. It’s awful.”

Committee chairman Cllr Keith Burchell said: “This application doesn’t give us any refusal reasons in the SPD. It complies.”

The meeting was told that planning officers were using the SPD to refuse HMO applications on the basis of overconcentration, as well as recommending others for approval.

A motion to refuse permission fell because it was tied at three in favour, three against and three abstentions and no one would second Cllr Burchell’s proposal to approve the plans, so they decided to send it up to the spatial planning committee for a decision.