CONTROLLING LETTING BOARDS IN NOTTINGHAM'S NEIGHBOURHOODS

BACKGROUND

As the number of HMOs in our neighbourhoods increased, so did the number of letting boards. Coupled with the ever earlier onset of the 'letting season', the results were a seemingly permanent jungle of letting boards. In some blighted neighbourhoods you could be forgiven for thinking that some-one had stretched a Joseph's coat of many colours (colour dependent on which landlord or agent) from one end of the street to another.

A forest of 'To Let' boards, followed by another forest of 'Let By' or 'Let Agreed' boards did nothing to improve the appearance of our streets and was a distinct put-off to potential family buyers and renters.

It also pinpointed HMOs to would-be burglars, and emphasised the transient nature of the community. It was one of those issues on which established residents and tenants agreed. As a past-President of Nottingham Trent University's Students Union wrote in the 2007 NAG magazine: 'We too are sick of the numerous TO LET signs left up permanently, preventing the student residents from ever feeling at home. ...'

In Spring 2008, Nottingham City Council, Unipol and the NAG, with support from Nottingham's two universities and their students' unions, developed a scheme to control the impact of letting boards on neighbourhoods, and their influence on when students begin house hunting.

This voluntary scheme came into effect on 1 July 2009 after a series of open meetings as well as meetings held specifically with landlords and agents, and operated in an area of the City where it was felt that the 'letting board blight' was most acute.  All landlords and managing agents with properties in that area were formally invited to commit to joining the scheme.

Feedback obtained during the consultation period was used to produce a final code of practice for the scheme, and also a modified area in which it would operate, viz: 

  • The use of letting boards to be permitted from 1 January to 30 September (inclusive) and prohibited from 1 October to 31 December (inclusive).
  • The display of one letting board to be permitted per property.
  • The letting board to conform to the following conditions:
    • The dimensions of the board to be 34cm x 48cm in either portrait of landscape layout
    • The background of the board to be white
    • Text permitted in any colours, provided that fluorescent colours are not used
    • One company logo per board to be permitted, the logo not to exceed one-third of the overall size of the advertising board
    • Logos to be allowed in any colours, provided that fluorescent colours are not used. 
  • Letting boards to be mounted and fixed flat onto the buildings. Board not to be sited anywhere else within the grounds of the property except in the case of apartment blocks or properties where a restrictive covenant exists that precludes the attachment of boards to the building. In these instances one letting board to be permitted per property mounted on a post within the grounds of the property parallel to the building frontage. Boards used in this way to conform with all the conditions listed above.
  • The use of 'Let' or 'Let By" boards or additions not to be permitted.
  • Boards to be removed within 14 days of the property becoming let (as required by Town and Country Planning act regulations).
  • No other form of signage advertising any property to be permitted, including the use of window displays.

From July 2009 to April 2010 the effectiveness of the voluntary scheme was monitored on a regular basis by Nottingham City Council officers, Unipol staff, NAG volunteers and others. Coincidentally, monitoring also assessed the effectiveness of a scheme subsequently produced by EMPO (East Midlands Property Owners).

The monitoring data was collated by Unipol's Nottingham office, and Unipol subsequently commissioned an independent consultant to analyse it and prepared a report. This was published in August 2010. Not unexpectedly, it concluded that both schemes had failed, and also that there was strong support for pursuing the introduction by the City Council of a statutory scheme.

 

ARGUMENTS FOR A STATUTORY SCHEME

Letting boards are subject to deemed consent, i.e. they do not need planning permission. They fall within Class 3A: the display of boards advertising that the residential land or premises on which they are fixed is for sale or to let. However, they are subject to certain restrictions, e.g.   

  • A single board or two joined boards may be displayed
  • The board must refer to the availability of the property to which it is attached
  • It must be no more than 0.5 m2 in area (0.6 m2 if two linked boards are used)
  • The advert must be removed within 14 days of the tenancy starting
  • It may not project more than 1 m from the building to which it is fixed
  • —Illumination is not permitted 

Paradoxically, one of the strong arguments for a statutory scheme to control letting boards in Nottingham was the failure on the part of landlords and agents to comply with current regulations, and by the planners to enforce them. 

(In defence of the latter, it has to be said that enforcement is time consuming and difficult. For example, how can a planning officer know when a tenancy has been agreed and formalized and, therefore, when the 14-day period of grace before the To Let sign is required to be removed is at an end?) 

Another supporting argument (that students use other means of finding their accommodation) was borne out by research done in November 2008 by Nottingham University’s Survey Unit. The research concluded that an average of only 3% of students saw letting boards as being an important source of information when looking for accommodation (1% of first year students, 5% of second year students, 3% of final year students). 

So, it was relatively safe to conclude that removing the automatic right to display letting boards was unlikely to materially affect the ability of landlords and agents to find tenants and continue to operate their legitimate businesses. 

A third argument was that the Leeds City Council scheme, on which the Nottingham one was closely based, had been in place for some time and had been very successfully implemented.

 

THE NEXT STAGE 

To take things further, Nottingham City Council needed to make an application to the Secretary of State to make a statutory Regulation 7 Direction removing deemed consent from To Let boards. PPG 19 (the Planning Policy Guidance on advertisement control) sets out the requirements of such an application. 

Amongst other things, the application needed to show that the ‘deemed consent’ provisions were environmentally unsatisfactory in the area in which it is proposed to control letting boards, and also needed to deal with: 

  • the adverse effects on visual amenity;
  • describe the remedial steps already taken to minimize these effects;
  • give details of prosecutions for any illegal displays;
  • assess the likely consequences of making the direction. 

Following an open meeting of the NAG in February 2011, the Council's Planning services were given a full briefing as to how to prepare and take forward a submission to the Secretary of State. 

As part of this more consultations followed until, on the 29 July 2011 the Council was finally able to make a submission for a Direction to control letting boards. 

This triggered yet another consultation, this time carried out by the Department for Communities & Local Government (CLG),  followed by another consultation by the Council on the details of the code of practice it intended to use when/if permission was given, and finally a visit to Nottingham by a Planning Inspector.

 

COMMUNITIES & LOCAL GOVERNMENT PERMISSION TO CONTROL LETTING BOARDS

On the 24 February 2012 an e-mail from the City Council's Planning Officer who had taken on the task of preparing the submission passed on the news that the Secretary of State had agreed to the control of letting boards in around 90% of the proposed control area. 

However, after representations were sent to the Secretary of State arguing that the omitted neighbourhoods should in fact be included in the Regulation 7 Direction, on the 26 July 2012, Nottingham City Council received a letter from the Secretary of State confirming that the Regulation 7 Direction removing deemed consent for letting boards had been extended to cover two of the three areas omitted by the Planning Inspector. 

Final approval from the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government was received by the City Council on the 10 September 2012 and the scheme came into force on the 17 October 2012.

 

NEIGHBOURHOODS COVERED BY THE REGULATION 7 DIRECTION 

The following is a list of the neighbourhoods where the Regulation 7 Direction permits Nottingham City Council to exercise control over letting boards: 

Area 1 Middleton Boulevard (Zone 1A, 1B): Averton Square, Broughton Drive, Calver Close, Charnock Avenue, Dalby Square, Derby Road (530 - 564 evens), Dorket Drive, Fairham Drive, Farndon Green, Harby Drive, Hawton Crescent, Hawton Spinney, Kilverton Close, Longore Square, Middleton Boulevard (2 – 136 evens, 5-101 odds), Orston Drive, Orston Green, Scalford Drive, Selston Drive, Sutton Passeys Crescent, Toston Drive, Wemyss Gardens, Wollaton Hall Drive. 

Area 2 Triumph Road: Bedarra Grove, Braddock Close, Cycle Road, Derby Road, (312– 396 evens), Dunlop Avenue (131 - 155 odds), Elmsthorpe Avenue, Falcon Close, Faraday Road (4-118 evens) Grinsbrook, Hazelmere Grove, Heron Drive, Hinchin Brook, Johnson Road, Kittiwake Mews, Lenton Boulevard, (131 - 155 odds), Peregrine Close, Sandpiper Way, Shelby Close, Wicket Grove. 

Area 3 Lenton Triangle: Albert Grove, Arundel Street, Ashbourne Street, Ashburnham Avenue, Balfour Road, Bute Avenue, Cottesmore Road, Derby Grove, Derby Road (158 - 298 evens and Park West), Douglas Road, Hermon Street, Ilkeston Road (57-201 odds, Raynor Court), Kimbolton Avenue, Lenton Boulevard (110 - 164 evens), Rothesay Avenue, Seely Road, Teversal Avenue, Wellington Square, Wellington Villas. 

Area 4 Forest Road West: Alfreton Road (11 - 131 odds, 18 - 168 evens), All Saints Street, All Saints Terrace, Althorpe Street, Arthur Street, Burns Avenue, Burns Street, Cromwell Street, Forest Road West (4 - 56 evens, 75 –  181 odds), Francis Street, Gamble Street, Gedling Grove, Greek Street, Highurst Street, Holden Street, Ilkeston Road (2 - 72 evens), Ireton Street, Kanman Court, Larkdale Street, Montfort Street, Montgomery Street, Moorgate Street, Newdigate Street, Newdigate Villas, Oliver Close, Oliver Street, Portland Road, Raleigh Street, Russell Street, Tennyson Street, Thoroton Street, Walter Street, Wansbeck Close, Waverley Street (1-35 odds Bronte Court) Wildman Street. 

Area 5 Mansfield Road: Addison Street, Alma Close, Alpha Terrace, Annesley Grove, Birkland Avenue, Bluecoat Close, Bluecoat Street, Century Court, Clinton Court, Clipstone Avenue, Colville Street, Colville Terrace, Colville Villas, Dryden Street, Dundas Close, Forest Grove, Forest Road East (east of Addison Street), Gill Street, Hampden Street, Mansfield Road (11-261 odds, 140-184 evens), Matlock Court, Mount Hooton, Newstead Grove, North Sherwood, Street, Ossington Close, Peachey Street, Peel Street, Shakespeare Street,(north side), Tudor Grove, Waverley Mount, Waverley Street (east side). 

Area 6 The Drives: Allington Avenue, Derby Road (197-215 odds), Harlaxton Drive, Harrington Drive, Harrowby Mews, Harrowby Road, Park Road (17a – 35 odds), Park Street (Victoria Court, Nos. 31-57 odds),Rolleston Drive, Welby Avenue. 

Area 7 Dunkirk and Lenton: Abbey Bridge, Abbey Street, Albert Road, Alderney Street, Arthur Avenue, Broadholme Street, Castle Boulevard (204-243), Castle Gardens, Cecil Street, Chilwell Street, Chippendale Street, Church Avenue, Church Grove, Church Square, Church Street (17-35 odds 24-34 evens), Claytons Drive, Cloister Street, Coleby Avenue, Derby Road (235 - 289 odds), Devonshire Promenade, Dunkirk Road, Forsythia Gardens, Frederick Grove, Friar Street, Friary Close, Gloucester Avenue, Gregory Avenue, Gregory Street, Grove Road, Harley Street, Hart Street, Henry Road, Hoyland Avenue, Hungerton Street, Lenton Boulevard (1-109 all, 111-115 odds) Lois Avenue, Lombard Close, Maxwell Close, Mettham Street, Nazareth Road, Old Church Street, Osmaston Street, Park Road (1-20 all 22 – 74 evens), Park Street (Digby Court, Abbey Court, Newgate Court, Lenton Court, Willoughby Court), Petersham Mews, Priory Mews, Priory Street, Rob Roy Avenue, Sherwin Road (297-235 odds), The Friary, Trinity Avenue, Warwick Street, Waterside Gardens, Willoughby Avenue, Willoughby Street, Wishford Avenue. 

Area 8 Derby Road: Arnesby Road, Church Street (37-57 odds Albert Square), Derby Road (east of Hill Side), Gregory Court, Gregory Street, Ingham Grove, Leen Gate (2 and Leengate Court), Lenton Manor, Martinmass Close, Midland Avenue, Penn Avenue, Rathmines Close, Saxon Green, Sherwin Grove (60-84 evens 29-83 odds, Mirberry Mews and Albert Ball Homes) Sherwin Road, Swenson Avenue. 

Area 8 (Zone 8B): Derby Road (west of Hill Side), Hill Side. 

Area 9 University Boulevard: Barrique Road, Beeston Road, Bunting Street, Brailsford Road, City Road, Claude Street, Clifton Boulevard (21-45 odds), Dunkirk Road (80-106 evens) Ednaston Road, Greenfield Street, Highfield Road, Lace Street, Marlborough Street, Montpelier Road, Tonnelier Road.   

For further information, including the Design Guidance for Letting Boards and a map of the neighbourhoods where the Direction applies, please visit the relevant section of Nottingham City Council's website at: