From meeting many residents associations over recent years I know that local people are concerned about the numbers and concentrations of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Southampton.
Whilst HMOs play an important role in the city economy, meeting housing needs and providing choice, high concentrations are often associated with anti social behaviour, noise nuisance, parking problems and the loss of family housing.
Southampton is a student city with a growing student population. Also as a port city there is a substantial transient population. Given that, there is a considerable demand for HMO accommodation. However this demand needs to be careful managed to protect the character of communities and the residents who live there. In my view the objective should be the creation of balanced communities.
As it stands councils like Southampton have very few powers to manage HMOs. It is great news that the Government is now conducting a review on possible changes to planning laws relating to HMOs. These changes could give Southampton City Council much greater powers. The Government review has come after years of hard work and lobbying by local residents groups and the City Council.
The Communities and Local Government department published its ‘Studentification Paper’ over a year ago which argued strongly in favour of the Government changing the planning laws. It also highlighted the excellent work being done in Southampton by the City Council and the two universities to tackle issues relating to HMOs.
Currently planning permission is not required to convert a family house into an HMO. One of the options in the Government’s consultation is to require planning permission. If the change goes through the Council would be able to refuse inappropriate applications or attach specific condition to any planning approvals that are granted. Such conditions might include a requirement for adequate bin storage or parking provision. Such conditions are a regular feature for new blocks of flats but because of current planning laws they aren’t required for HMOs. Even garages and quite minor extensions require planning permission, so why not HMOs? In Northern Ireland HMOs require planning permission and it works well there, so why not here?
This is a change which I have been campaigning for, for some considerable time. In parts of Portswood and the Polygon now, some roads are already over 90% HMOs. It is therefore important that the Government acts quickly and proactively.
I have written to the Government pushing for urgent action.