Milton Keynes Council continued a rearguard action against the revised legislation. On 20 January 2011, the High Court permitted a Judicial Review, which took place on 30-31 March. The Lobby submitted a Witness Statement in support of the Council. But the judgement on 11 April went against Milton Keynes.
The demand for HMOs remains volatile, in England at least. On the one hand, student demand seems likely to decline. Surveys and reports, reproduced in the press, indicate that "tuition fee increases, coupled with declining numbers of 18-24 year-olds in the general population over the next decade, will see a 14% decline in British higher education student numbers over the next ten years ... half (52%) of all younger students will choose a local higher education establishment and stay with their parents" [though the level of demand will vary between universities]. On the other hand, housing shortages and changes in housing benefits will give rise to new demand for HMOs from other sources.
All the information above concerns England only. Each of the other countries of the UK is following a different route. Since 2004, Northern Ireland has had thorough HMO licensing (if not entirely comprehensive), and in the same year, HMOs were brought under planning control. Since 2008, policy in Belfast has set a threshold of 10% HMOs per street, with some areas excepted. An inter-agency group, led by Belfast City Council, has since undertaken a research study into the Holyland area (where HMOs are most concentrated), with a view to presenting proposals for rebalancing. The key proposal is to build purpose-built student accommodation away from residential areas, and there is already interest from developers and a number of sites around the city centre are under consideration.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, all landlords have to register, and all HMOs are subject to licensing; but HMOs remain in the same class as family houses. However, Sustainable Communities Scotland (SUSCOMS), our sister organisation north of the border, has lobbied successfully for significant clauses in the Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011 (which come into effect in January). One is a link between licensing and planning, giving local authorities the power to refuse to consider an application for an HMO licence if it considers that there would be a breach of planning control. The other is the use of licensing effectively as a planning control, giving local authorities the power to refuse to grant an HMO licence if it considers that there is overprovision of HMOs in the locality; implementation of Section 13 of the Act has been delayed in order to give Councils time to develop local HMO policies.
Further details of the National HMO Lobby’s activities are available on the ‘History’ and the ‘National Developments’ pages, on the Lobby’s website: www.hmolobby.org.uk.
Your situation sounds very similar to what we had to put up with in Bournemouth five years ago. After several community meetings, we eventually got the police, the council and the university working from the same page. The following happened; not all at once but very gradually and please don’t think we have cured the problem. The disease mutates every September when the next year’s tenants arrive at the Student HMOs. It will not be 'cured' until there is a sustainable balance of HMOs in the community and not the saturation policy we have now.
1. We now have a dedicated police officer for the University.
2. All the Police SNT teams communicate week with the Unsocial Behaviour Officers, and the University disciplinary team.
3. The Students Union hold education 'responsible neighbour' seminars for Student HMO tenants, including a community film and 'Welcome/Introduction' strategies involving both the students and the permanent residents. This is a major commitment from the Students Union.
4. The University and all the agencies recognise that the problem is not with the 'new' students, they spend their first year in Halls, but with the second year students who move into HMOs.
5. All reports of unsocial behaviour that are reported to the police or to the council are followed up by Bournemouth University or the Arts University College. Hundreds of students have been fined and given warnings that any repeat behaviour will result in their dismissal from the University. Depending on the severity of the offence a final warning is issued(this has never happened, no one has ever got to this far. Repeat offending students often leave the University of their own choice.
We have regular meetings which bring all the agencies and interested parties together. At the last meeting the following organisations were represented: Neighbourhood Police Team Inspector, University Police Constable, University Student Welfare teams, University PR team, University Students Union, Unsocial Behaviour Team, Local Residents Forums, Neighbourhood Watch teams, Street Cleaning Team, Waste Disposal Team, Local Councillors, Planning Officers, Housing Officers, Local Press. There may be more, but I think you get the picture.
There is no street policing by our 2 Universities, though Bristol University has a 'dedicated PC' (presumably funded by Uni). He provides liaison with Police generally, and as a uniformed officer, adds a bit of clout if involved over public misdemeanours by students.
The sort of scene described exists, but it is fair to say that following establishment some 3 years ago by Bristol Uni Accommodation Department of a 6 monthly meeting of Uni, Students Union, Residents representatives, things appear to be somewhat better.
Residents find it worthwhile to complain, Uni will check that the houses concerned have their students, and read riot act. Persistent offenders can be hauled before their professor, and warned that reprimands may go on academic record.
We don't have quite what our colleague in Southampton would like, in Leeds. We do have Walksafe, where the police look after students along the main thoroughfare from the centre of town into Headingley, at the beginning of the year (for new students' protection). And last winter, Headingley Street Angels was launched, to reduce ASB at night (for a report, see Headway #35). The two unis in Leeds run a Helpline, and follow up complaints - quite effectively, I think.
Here in Loughborough we have forged good relationships with the University, the Students Union, the local council and the police over a period of eleven years. The University Security officers who work on campus can be contacted to deal with rowdy behaviour from student houses at night and will patrol on request if we report unacceptable noise/behaviour on the street. The Students’ Union Executive also play a responsible role in trying to educate students to respect the community. We also have a Warden in the community to liaise between students and residents and to take disciplinary measures if necessary. The police run a campaign designed to educate and protect students re crime. They increase police presence at night for the first month of the academic year, especially during Freshers’ Week. But then, Loughborough is only a small town not a big city – population about 45,000 with another 15,000 when students are here.
From Alison Barlow, Community Relations, Loughborough University: Here at Loughborough our system involving Security works as follows:
1. We operate a 24 hour ‘helpline’ to residents to report problems and issues of concerns. Where possible our Security will respond to these calls and try and intervene, particularly if the problem is associated with a particular house. Security will check our accommodation records to see if we have students there and then attend if resources allow. They will endeavour to resolve any situation they find. E.g if music is loud, get the students to turn it down. The University has three community wardens covering the main student areas and any issues reported to Security then get passed to the community wardens for follow up. The wardens will assess the situation, interview the students and discuss the issues with residents and plan a response accordingly. This may involve advice to students, a warning or even discipline (the University’s regulations set this out.
2. Security also do pro-active patrols of the key student areas in Loughborough. They aim to spot potential issues and resolve them if possible. E.g by moving groups on. The University invested resources in additional security staff to provide this response several years ago following campaigns by groups like SARG and discussions with them. It is important to stress that we do not have permanent Security guards in any particular locations. The service is a response service.
The University works very closely with the Police and the ASB team at the Council and we try and plan a joint response to issues. The Council and Police operate an incremental approach to ASB and where matters are reported to them they will visit students if necessary and provide warnings etc. This obviously depends very much on the nature of the incident and the evidence available. If students ignore warnings or letters they would find themselves being scaled up the incremental approach. I am not aware of this ever happening here.
One thing we have found is that this system works well in a place like Loughborough because of two factors:
(a) The size of the town. Security staff can get to key student areas in just a few minutes because Loughborough is relatively small.
(b) There is only one HE Institution and although we always check our records there often no issue of the students belonging to another institution.
I think it is also important to stress that the system is not perfect and incidents still do occur but on the whole my understanding is that SARG and other residents believe the service is a valuable one.
Your e-mail mirrors the experience of residents in student HMO areas in Manchester. It is heartbreaking to see a neighbourhood degraded and broken up by profiteering landlords on the one hand and inconsiderate anti-social tenants on the other. It is absurd that much needed family housing is used to accommodate students for 30 weeks of the year (essentially second homes) and in my view is a major failing of the policy to expand Higher Education.
I see from your e-mail address that you are part of a Residents Action Group. It is in my experience essential to work with others not only for personal support to deal with the appalling situations encountered on one’s doorstep, but to make any dent in the blinkered attitude of the Authorities.
The difficulty is so many agencies need to work together to find solutions, Police, Universities, Local Authorities, including Private Sector Housing, Planning and Licensing among other departments.
Here in Manchester a local Civic Society [Withington] started the ball rolling 3 years ago with a Public Meeting bringing together representatives of all the agencies. The concern and commitment of local Cllrs to such initiatives is vital too. Perhaps your action group has done something similar?
Manchester City Council has responded most notably by setting up a ‘Student Strategy’ to find ways forward, supporting the financing of an Off-Campus manager appointed by the Universities and backing the National HMO lobby’s campaign to change the Planning Law re HMOs and implementing the changes into the Local Development Framework. A tower of strength now is the Council’s anti-social behaviour action team, working with the Off Campus manager, but they can only deal with problems linked to specific addresses. Local groups are also providing evidence to withstand the granting of extended hours at pubs and clubs and to press for a cumulative impact policy.
However the fact is that in some areas student HMOs so dominate the population and the drinking/clubbing culture is so embedded in university life that we sometimes despair of having made any progress at all. The drunken mayhem on the streets during the night and in and around some HMO properties remains an unsolved problem dreadful for residents including those students who don’t want to be part of it.
So another public meeting is being convened this time by a Residents Group to find new solutions and many ideas are being canvassed including police initiatives, PCSO patrols after midnight, enforcement of conditions in HMO Licensing schemes, University codes of conduct/discipline to support the Off Campus manager, Student Union involvement etc.
It is all very time consuming but it is quite wrong that people are driven from their homes and thriving balanced communities lost to landlords and temporary tenants – bad for every-one.
In Newcastle, the Council operates a Night Time Noise Service, Nightwatch, on 7 nights per week between 8pm and 4am. The team will respond to neighbour noise as quickly as possible. They can be contacted by ringing a dedicated number and there is also an email address but it is not monitored at night.
We also have, in Jesmond, a dedicated late night police initiative, funded by the two Jesmond Wards, and the two Universities (Newcastle and Northumbria), which operates three nights per week from 8.00 p.m. to 4.00 a.m. (the nights are decided by the police according to their own data and that of Environmental Health) between September and June.
We have continually asked for security from the University to patrol the streets in Ormskirk. We get no where with this. They are happy to patrol the accommodation ‘on site’ and any problems with students they kick them off campus, which leaves ‘us’ the residents dealing with them. My heart goes out to this lady. We are having to deal with exactly the same problems as she describes in her e-mail. Urinating on houses/flashing of parts/screaming/shouting in the early hours/foul language, etc., etc... . Residents lives are being made unbearable, and some of us have to go to work having had virtually no sleep. This lady is correct in saying this is the worst year yet. We are working hard with the University/police and council to address problems, but it is a hard struggle.
Both Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam Universities have phone numbers you can ring through the night. The further you are from their own buildings, the more convincing they need that the problems are student-driven, and not just an excess of town high spirits (as distinct from gown). But the University accepts that the behaviour of students who are out and about DOES matter. I have seen disciplinary cases, resulting in fines and suspensions, following bad cases.
At either end of the A660 corridor, the University is proposing new development of two of its sites.
In accordance with its Housing Strategy, the University has undertaken that no replacement accommodation for students will be within the Area of Housing Mix.
Headingley Community Orchard’s newest site – the Remembrance Orchard (by the St Chad’s war memorial) is now well under way. We have planted most of the young trees – apples, pears, cherries, plums and a mulberry – and also hundreds of bulbs which will give a lovely show in the Spring. In January we will plant the remaining trees and also a beech hedge to run alongside the access road. We will be on site from 10.00-12.30 on Sunday, 15 January if anyone would like to come and give us a hand. We are very pleased that Wade’s Charity, who own the site, have generously given us a grant to help pay for an information board for the site and some seating. We hope to have these in place in time for the formal opening of the new orchard which will take place on 22nd April. Further details of this event will follow nearer the time. Many thanks to all those who have supported us financially or who have given up their time to come and help with the work parties and to members of Far Headingley Village Society who have done fantastic work on the herbaceous border. ...
... 9.00-12.30 on the second Saturday of each month, 14 January, 11 February and 10 March, in the Rose Garden, North Lane (opposite the old Community Centre). Organic vegetables, smoothies, cheese, bread, free-range eggs, baked goods, jams, honey, fish, meat (farm reared and organic). Locally produced food direct from local producers. Over 20 stalls providing a rich variety of foods in season. Guest stalls every month.
♦Monday 16 January, Prof. W. Gilks (University of Leeds), DNA: What it is and what we can do with it?
♦Monday 6 February, Dr. Janine Lamb (University of Manchester), Genes and autism spectrum condition
‘All free governments are managed by thecombined wisdom and folly of the people.’
[James A. Garfield]
Note: I imagine the ‘roof over our heads’ has been of concern since the first of our ancestors climbed down from the sheltering canopy of their forest homes.
But, I’m being flippant about something which is fundamentally important to us as individuals, our families and their futures, and the quality of all our lives.
It’s central to the NAG’s involvement with a variety of players. Not least of these is Nottingham City Council, its housing and planning policies, and their implementation.
Last June I was sent an invitation to a City Council housing conference (since cancelled).
Its title, ‘Beyond Bricks and Mortar’, rang a bell with me and, after a root around, I came up with what had been the lead article in this magazine in 2006. I thought I’d start with that article as an introduction to a part of the magazine very much to do with the Council and with housing and planning issues, and the implementation of national toolkits (like the Housing Act 2004 and the more recent planning changes) in local policies and local strategies such as the City Council’s developing new Housing Strategy and its Land and Planning Policies (LAPP) Development Plan.
First, though, it’s important to make the point that the 2006 article focuses on ‘studentification’ and the conversion of ‘family homes’ into homes for students.
Students are not the only group in society for whom HMOs can and do provide homes now, and will continue to do in the future. However, many (if not all) of the observations made in the article about student-tenanted HMOs and their impact are equally applicable to all HMOs regardless of the social, economic or demographic groups which may become their occupants.
HOUSES ARE MORE THAN...
Bricks ♦ Mortar ♦ Money
INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR
DEVELOPERS & BUY-TO-LET/SECOND HOME SPECULATORS
THEY ARE HOMES
BUILDING BLOCKS OF NEIGHBOURHOODS
CORNERSTONES OF COMMUNITIES
When it comes to problems surrounding ‘studentification’, and HMOs, most of what gets talked about, and shown, is the nuisance: litter, rubbish, persistent, usually low-level, often thoughtless, anti-social behaviour.
However, it is possible to clean up streets, get rid of litter, and curb the worst excesses of landlords and their tenants. But, none of this is going to make neighbourhoods capable of sustaining and renewing themselves.
That needs people who are prepared to put down roots, feel responsibility for, and to, their neighbours, and, ultimately, contribute to the long-term health and future of the greater community. In other words, people for whom houses are first and foremost homes. People who ‘... stay for the long haul ... .’
Yes, a house is probably the single largest financial transaction most of us are likely to contemplate. The fact that equity is likely to increase over time is part of the picture. But, not the whole picture.
Just as important is the neighbourhood: its location, its amenities, the people – its ‘ambiance’.
We invest in a house and make it a home. We also invest in the long-term viability of the neighbourhood. What happens to it, and to our neighbours, is important. Usually, when we move on the people who buy our home also buy into the neighbourhood and its future strength and vitality and fitness.
In our neighbourhoods this isn’t happening.
Speculators buying properties for conversion into HMOs purchase a commodity that will give the maximum return on their investment. They don’t even live here. So why expect them to care for the welfare of the neighbourhood?
Their tenants are young, highly mobile, totally absorbed in their own lifestyles. The houses they occupy are accommodation. Their homes are elsewhere. Their time as investors in homes and neighbourhoods is yet to come.
The danger is that council, universities, students all concentrate on cleaning up the environment ‘... bailing out the Titanic’s engine room with teaspoons ...’ and put aside the fact that there are: too many HMOs, too few families, not enough children, degraded amenities. They must not ignore the social and emotional misery of real people living in the host communities who are at risk of become aliens in the dying neighbourhoods that were once their own.
In our neighbourhoods families and others don’t want to, or are prevented from, making a commitment to the ‘long haul’. That has to change. How to do this is the real challenge – for council, universities, students [landlords] and, ultimately, for Government itself.
Rise to it and there is some hope that we will again have
Neighbourhoods were families want to live ... not leave!
[Nottingham Action Group Magazine, Summer-Autumn, 2006]
‘FIRST PERSON’ THOUGHTS ON HOUSING & HOMES
Note: Following its revamp, the Nottingham Post has started to have guests who write ‘First Person’ articles on a range of topics, amongst them these two which appeared recently in a two-page spread devoted to housing needs and policies.
Councillor Jane Urquhart is the City Council’s Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transport, and Matt Ashton is a Lecturer in Politics at Nottingham Trent University. Both have some interesting (and possibly controversial) thoughts on the subject. You may also find some of them rather familiar.
Immigrants, Students & Older People Are all Going To Need Homes in Which To Live
All councils are required by the government to set targets for providing new housing in their area – but why?
The city council, along with other local authorities in Greater Nottingham, will shortly be publishing plans for how the area should develop up until 2028, including the number of new homes thought to be required.
Some people may think there’s already enough housing in the area. Some may say we don’t need new housing when there are so many vacant houses and flats. But, while we need to continue to make efforts to reduce the number of empty properties, this doesn’t provide nearly enough homes.
There are a number of reasons why more housing is needed. There is of course an increasing population.
This plays a part but, even if there was no increase, and no net immigration from overseas, we would still need new housing.
The main reason is the ageing population. Projections show 36,000 more people aged 70-plus in Greater Nottingham by 2028, forming nearly one in six of the population, compared to one in nine now.
There’s also an increase in family break-ups and more people living alone, meaning the average household size is continuing to reduce, so we need more homes even if the population stays the same.
In addition, like most cities, Nottingham has experienced considerable immigration in recent years and rises in the number of students, both of which have contributed to its population increase.
And we need to plan for a time when people can once again afford mortgages or find a home to rent, and so form their own households.
This will include providing sufficient low-cost housing and meeting the needs of older people. New homes are needed and will, of course, provide local jobs during construction.
One of our priorities is to increase the number of larger homes with gardens suitable for families, which are in short supply in Nottingham.
We are committed to developing them sustainably through their location near good public transport, making them as energy efficient as possible and providing a broad range of housing types so they are accessible to all.
[Jane Urquhart, Nottingham Post, Thursday, 12 January, 2012]
Care Needed To Avoid Return To Solutions Of Sink Estates
Housing policy is an emotive issue and one that has a lot of traction on the doorsteps of England.
Houses are more than just bricks and mortar – they’re our homes, where we grow up and then raise our own families.
Therefore, it’s all the more surprising that politicians have allowed us to get into the state we’re in.
I don’t think I’d shock anyone if I said that national housing policy in this country has been an absolute shambles for decades now; dominated either by short-termism or a willful desire to look the other way.
Much like the debt crisis, we’ve simply been putting off the problem until tomorrow and now tomorrow is just around the corner.
It’s not just a question of people not having anywhere to live either, although obviously that’s a priority.
The shortage helped create the housing boom and subsequent bust.
Other research has shown that it’s also a contributing factor behind a host of social problems in recent years and that healthy supplies of community housing are essential for creating social cohesion and stability.
It’s not just a case of simply speed-building more houses though.
We have to think very carefully about a range of factors.
For instance, where do we build them? Are they affordable? Are they properly supported by suitable infrastructure and amenities?
The badly-designed and built sink estates and concrete tower blocks of the 60’s and 70’s, and the legacy of social problems that followed, are what happened last time we rushed into building new homes without thinking it through.
Attempts to build on green-belt land or even reclassify it have met with stiff resistance across the country.
Everybody seems to agree that new houses have to be built but it’s just finding the right place to put them.
Brown-field sites are an obvious answer, along with rejuvenating existing housing. Equally, we need to look carefully at the issue of house prices, social housing and the second homes issue.
All of these are part of the bigger picture and attempting to deal with one but not the others is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle using only one piece.
Obviously all of this is going to cost money and, in the current economic climate, that’s in short supply. But if anything’s worth spending money on, surely it’s this.
[Matt Ashton, Nottingham Post, Thursday, 12 January, 2012]
LICENSING OF HMOs
NEW CITY-WIDE HMO LICENSING POWERS INTRODUCED [in Oxford]
Oxford City Council’s groundbreaking new powers for licensing houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) come into force on Monday 24 January 2011.
The Council already licenses larger three storey HMOs that contain five or more tenants and currently over 600 HMO licences have been issued, but an Additional Licensing Scheme has been introduced that means every HMO in the city will need to obtain a licence.
Oxford City Council is the first council in the country to introduce a HMO licensing scheme that covers the whole of its area and that requires every HMO to be licensed.
The scheme is being introduced in two phases. From Monday 24 January, all three or more storey HMOs in Oxford will require a licence and so will all two storey HMOs that contain five or more tenants.
All remaining HMOs will require a licence from January next year. It is estimated that this will involve licensing approximately 4000 properties in total.
Councillor Joe McManners, Board Member for Housing, says: “I am delighted that we have finally got the powers to improve every HMO in Oxford.
“They have long been recognised as being a particular problem in the city, providing the worst homes and in many cases being poorly managed.
“The private rented sector is hugely important to the residents of Oxford, not just in terms of providing much needed accommodation, but also with the impact that it can have on local communities and licensing every HMO will help drive up standards for everyone.
“We have designed the scheme so that it is self financing and I’m pleased to be able to say in these tough times that the Council Taxpayer is not paying a penny towards it.
“We have also recognised the important role of good landlords by developing a charging regime that provides them with incentives and which clearly punishes the bad landlords.”
An Additional Licensing Scheme gives the Council increased powers to deal with HMOs. Every HMO will be inspected before a licence is issued and the Council are able to specify conditions on the licence that the licence holder must comply with or face legal action.
If problems occur with poor management or unsafe conditions, legal action can be taken which may result in the licence holder losing their licence and their ability to run HMOs.
Those landlords who have already been found guilty of relevant offences will not be able to hold a licence for an HMO and will have to find someone else, such as a reputable Letting Agent, to run their properties for them.
There will be an annual fee to license an HMO and the fees will be used to pay for the scheme so that it is self financing and there will be no cost to the taxpayer.
There will be additional charges for landlords who try and avoid licensing their properties and where complaints from tenants or residents result in extra visits by officers being necessary. There will be fee reductions for good landlords, including those who own multiple properties
[Oxford City Council Website, 24 January 2011]
NOTE: For more information on Oxford City Council’s approach to HMOs see:
NOTTINGHAM CONSULTATION ON ADDITIONAL LICENSING FOR HMOs
Note: As reported in the Nottingham Post in October 2009 (and in the last issue of this magazine) the City Council announced a proposal to extend HMO licensing to parts of the city. The Council’s website also announced a consultation to run until mid-December 2009.
Additional licensing of HMOs has yet to happen. However, the Council’s website is now providing an alert that a new consultation will take place in 2012.
There is a school of thought that additional licensing will not produce the same impact on the quality of maintenance and management of HMOs as mandatory licensing has had, and no doubt, as in the past, there will be strong opposition from some quarters.
However, Oxford appears to be setting a useful example for Nottingham to follow. So, for further developments, watch the City Council’s website at: www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk.
The City Council is considering whether to implement Additional Licensing which would extend the Licensing provisions of HMOs, under the Housing Act 2004, parts 2 and 3. Nottingham City Council will be inviting you to take part in the consultation and let us know your views.
An HMO is a building or part of a building occupied as a main residence by more than one household. In summary, this means that properties occupied by individuals who are unrelated to one another and who share facilities, by definition, are houses in multiple occupation, including properties occupied by students.
HMOs are present across the whole of the city, with concentrations in certain wards. The density of housing and the level of occupation of HMOs can mean that if they are not effectively maintained and managed, they can be detrimental to both the occupiers and to the neighbourhood.
The Housing Act 2004 provides legal powers to the Local Authority, to address some housing and management conditions, including the mandatory licensing of certain types of HMOs of a prescribed description. Under licensing, certain sets of standards and management arrangements are required to be met. In Nottingham City fewer than 30% of HMOs are licensable under the mandatory scheme. The overall effect is that there is a limited ability to control the non licensable HMOs and the impact they have on neighbourhoods and on their occupants.
Mandatory licensing has had a positive impact within neighbourhoods across the city, but there are still a number of sub standard and poorly managed non licensed HMOs.
The Housing Act allows for licensing powers to be extended to HMOs, which are currently excluded from the mandatory licensing scheme. The consultation is due to take place in 2012. Please monitor this page, which will be updated when all the information is available.
[Nottingham City Council Website, 28 December 2011]
HMOs & PLANNING CONTROLS:
NOTTINGHAM’S ARTICLE 4 DIRECTION
The first part of this magazine, having followed what from January 2010 at times seemed like a game of national planning legislation Snakes and Ladders, ended with the decision of Nottingham City Council’s Executive Board in February 2011 to accept the recommendation of its officers, and authorize them to take the first steps towards an Article 4 Direction to control the future numbers and locations of HMOs in the city.
Formal notification that the City Council had made a city-wide Article 4 relating to HMOs which, subject to confirmation by the Council, would come into force on 11 March 2011, came soon afterwards.
The notification also announced the start of a consultation on the Direction, to run from 11 March to 27 April. In the event, the consultation period was extended to 31 May 2010.
Just as the February report to the Council’s Executive Board had elicited strong and emotive headlines, so did the consultation on the Article 4 Direction. A Nottingham Post article on the 27 April carried the banner: ‘1,000 students oppose city council’s homes plan “discrimination”’, and the website of Nottingham University’s Students’ Union outlined the opposition of students at the university under the headline: ‘Student leader warns of outrage at “under the radar” changes to planning legislation’.
It may be that, just as the General Election campaign had in 2010, the impending local elections also added to the atmosphere that built up during this period. Certainly some very intemperate statements made at a hustings meeting in Wollaton Park (arranged by the Nottingham Post) did nothing to improve the objectivity of what developed into a divisive, highly polarizing, mis-informed and at times, very disagreeable, discourse, reverberations from which have yet to subside.
The consultation report made a number of observations beginning with:
‘The consultation prompted submissions from 258 separate respondents spanning a wide range of interests including property companies, letting agents, local and national landlords’ organisations/associations, MPs, Councillors, residents’ groups, action groups, property related organisations, the Universities, students, residents and public sector housing providers. An electronic petition was also submitted jointly by the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University Students’ Unions, with 3,819 entries. ... Out of 258 separate respondents, 188 object to the proposal, 65 support it, 4 provide other comments with a further respondent indicating support in principle. ...’
With that many responses, it is possible to print only a selection of them. I don’t claim to be a disinterested spectator, but in making my selection I have sought (and probably failed) to achieve some degree of equanimity and balance between the differing viewpoints represented in the Council’s Report, which can be downloaded in its entirety from the Council’s website:
It is probably as well for me to add the comment that I have omitted from this selection all responses that came from: national and local landlord associations and organizations; from national and local students’ unions; from politicians (i.e. MPs and councillors); from the universities; and from a number of other interested parties, including the NAG.
My final selection is a set of comments from a postgraduate student, picked not because they are supportive of the Direction, but because the observations made are ‘different’, and, simply, resonated with me.
- The introduction of the direction will be detrimental to the provision of shared housing in the City & will push already vulnerable tenants onto the ‘black market’ which you already appear to struggle to police.
- Do not believe the directive will remove existing HMOs, if anything it will just discourage normal landlords to move further away from this already overly regulated market pushing further areas of the City into slum conditions. The belief that families will move back into these areas is severely misguided, & the effect of the direction in some cases could well be that properties will actually lose value & fall into disrepair.
- The direction will prevent further investment in the private rented sector when more & more young people are struggling to buy their own property & the population of sharers is on the rise.
- The private rented sector is becoming increasingly important to DSS tenants across the City, yet the Council are planning to reduce the choice available to them. This will inevitably force up prices, which doesn’t make any sense.
- The City’s growing student population relies heavily on shared accommodation. Many businesses in turn rely on the students & post graduates that stay in the city for trade & for employment. Whilst the elderly may enjoy deserted streets outside of term time I believe the increased number of students helps to create a more vibrant & diverse city.
- Forcing students into over-priced purpose built villages may tick a lot of Council boxes & please certain pressure groups that the Council funds but it does nothing to help prepare students for the real world & also removes from them the choice to share a house with friends which has been part of student life for generations.
- Private landlords need flexibility to adapt property to suit changes in circumstance. The direction will remove the ability to switch between sharers & families without first obtaining planning permission.
- What business is it of the Council to police who lives in privately rented properties as long as they are managed properly & the property meets all the safety criteria required?
- Introducing the direction appears to be principally another Council job creation scheme with the only benefit being to Council employees rather than tenants or the tax-payer.
- It is a time consuming and costly exercise for the Council, landlords & ultimately tenants (who will end up paying for it through increased rent).
- The Council is trying to socially engineer where people live & it should have no business to do so. It is an infringement of liberty.
- The uncertainty of the planning process will deter new landlords, but Nottingham needs private landlords, because the Council is incapable of providing housing for everyone.
- Central Government is trying to simplify planning requirements while the direction would complicate it. The direction will result in a drop in private sector investment in Nottingham.
- The timing of the consultation period falls when a large majority of the people affected by these proposals (the students) are likely to be away from Nottingham. The consultation period should be extended to allow students to be fully consulted, & the Student’s Unions of both Nottingham universities to be fully involved in the process.
- Measures dictating where any particular social, racial, financial, professional or other group are allowed or “encouraged” to live is unnecessary, undemocratic, unfair, discriminatory & unlawful. Students, as with any other group within society, have the right to live where & how they choose – it is not the place of the Council to force any group to live in a certain manner or location, as these proposals attempt to do.
- Restricting students to a sole area or style of accommodation removes their freedom to choose the housing most appropriate for their needs & means, & will have the effect of forcing students to live as second-class citizens in over priced, low quality housing. These areas are also likely to become prime targets for burglaries & robberies, which will put additional strain on police resources if the areas are to be kept safe for the people who live in & near them.
- The proposal will harm the business of the hundreds of private landlords who have made great investments in making their properties student-friendly. Far from being ideal family homes, many of these properties would be too expensive for a young couple to afford, & are far too large for the modern family, most having four, five or six separate bedrooms – making them ideal for a small group of students wishing to live within the community. Many of Nottingham’s landlords & estate agents depend on students for their livelihoods.
- Nottingham’s large student population are an essential source of revenue for retailers & service providers. For small businesses & those in the service trade such as pubs & restaurants, students provide an essential source of relatively inexpensive, flexible & readily available labour, without which they would struggle to continue to trade at competitive prices.
- Most university students work part-time jobs to help fund their studies, but if they were forced to live in certain areas, for many it would become impossible to manage both work & study, as they would no longer be able to choose a home well placed for both. This would mean a loss of an important labour resource, loss of tax revenue, & in the long run would make Nottingham a far less attractive city to prospective students.
- Whilst students may have a reputation for being untidy, antisocial & undesirable, this vulgarised stereotype forgets that students are intelligent, capable individuals who are the next generation of well respected professions. Students are a diverse group of people. Mature students will often have a family to raise alongside their studies, & may have in fact been a part of the community for many years. Discrimination against students is discrimination against a vast section of society.
- Given the chance, most students integrate well with the local community & give back in many ways, including through paid & voluntary work, & even just simply bringing life, vitality & money to an area.
- The Council should bear in mind that as a City which boasts two large Universities within its boundaries, plus others including Loughborough in close proximity, & which draw a prestigious & international group of students to the City & surrounding areas, it would do well to treat its large student population with the respect it would any other group.
- Areas with high student populations benefit hugely from having a world-class higher education institution.
- Students have helped to make the City diverse & dynamic.
- Students have had other positive impacts, such as through many volunteer initiatives including conservation projects, working with schools & working with elderly people.
- Acknowledge the problems that the proposed plans are intending to deal with, but do not believe the solutions treat students fairly.
- Families & students are both in need of affordable housing, & students will increasingly be in need of it when tuition fees increase from 2012. Purpose built student accommodation is nearly always more expensive than renting in the private sector.
- Solution must treat students as adults, who are part of the community.
- Segregation will worsen relationships with the rest of the community.
- Welcomed the introduction of the April 2010 HMO planning legislation & were disappointed when this was overturned by the coalition Government.
- Believe strongly that the Council must be able to use planning legislation to control the change of homes into HMOs as part of a wider housing policy.
- Want locally elected representatives & local planners to respond effectively to local people’s concerns about the way in which the spread & concentration of HMOs are affecting their own, very local, neighbourhoods.
- Vulnerable neighbourhoods like Lenton need protection from the problems caused by HMOs, especially when there are too many of them already.
- The problem is not isolated to Lenton alone, & excessive HMO conversion has already blighted other parts of the City.
- When too many HMOs saturate an area they contribute to the creation of fragmented neighbourhoods where buy-to-let activity threatens community support & cohesion. If we were to move to another part of the City we would want to be sure that the problems experienced in Lenton do not arise elsewhere in the future because of the indiscriminate conversion of family homes into HMOs.
- Believe the direction has to be city-wide to make sure that the Council can respond quickly to the build up of HMOs without having to wait 12 months for the legislation to become effective, & to stop conversions to HMOs taking place in streets just outside an area with a direction in place.
- Wish to see confirmation of the direction without any modifications to the present proposals.
- The proposal demands widespread and enthusiastic support to which we are very keen to add our backing.
- If this is the way to mitigate the willful reversal of the April 2010 planning legislation, the Council needs to be aware of the well evidenced views of local residents (& voters) & to resist the pleas of landlords & agents, who in many cases are not residents or voters & motivated purely by easy profits.
- In our experience the problems in areas like Lenton arise not from students as individuals, but the density of HMOs, which reaches a point where a community fragments and ceases to function.
- Affected areas begin to spread to adjoining suburbs, so a city-wide approach is essential.
- Urge the confirmation of the unmodified direction with the least possible delay so that further deterioration is nipped in the bud.
- Some students may well ‘love’ Lenton & other neighbourhoods occupied by students, but anyone (students included) would be hard pressed to say that they love the substandard living accommodation & the lax attitudes of some landlords towards rental properties.
- The Housing Act 2004 is basically unknown to students who occupy a property during term-time only, & enforcing housing law against poor landlords is extremely limited unless an individual takes court action or involves their already overburdened Council. Both avenues are limited with a transient population such as students, & therefore the cycle continues leaving neighbourhoods to degrade.
- As a full-time postgraduate student living in Nottingham 12 months of the year, I resent the problems that student housing & HMO properties bring. Not all students want to live in substandard accommodation with limited tenancy assurance, not to mention the neighbourhood problems caused by properties that are neglected by landlords & unoccupied for several months of the year leading to increases in crime & poor maintenance, not to mention the rubbish, noise and wheelie bins.
- These types of properties price Nottingham graduates out of the market for renting or buying a small property or flat when they enter the job market.
COUNCIL EXECUTIVE BOARD CONFIRMS ARTICLE 4 DIRECTION
Balanced neighbourhoods will be protected for future generations by controlling the over-concentration of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs)
The City Council has today (November 22nd) agreed to change planning arrangements to control the numbers and location of future HMOs.
A relaxation in planning rules by the Government in 2010 removed the need to obtain planning permission to change a "C3 Dwellinghouse" to a "C4 House in Multiple Occupation by three or more non-related people." More than 20 local authorities across the country, including five other Core Cities, have made article 4 directions to reinstate the need for planning permission to control and manage HMO conversions. This move has now also been approved by the City Council's Executive Board, which means that from 1 March 2012, planning permission will be needed to change the use of a C3 property to a C4 property. The Direction does not impact on existing properties that have already been converted for multiple occupation.
Councillor Jane Urquhart, Nottingham City Council's portfolio holder for Planning and Transportation, says: "Protecting diverse communities where people of all ages can live has enormous benefits for neighbourhoods and the people who live in them. The introduction of an Article 4 Direction will help us control further increases in HMO concentration. The council is not denying choice to anyone but simply ensuring that in neighbourhoods which have a healthy balance of family housing, student accommodation, shops and suitable community facilities, these characteristics are preserved.”
The Council is concerned that a high concentration of HMOs can lead to imbalanced and unsustainable communities. Some side effects of this are increased anti-social behaviour and noise, harm to the physical environment and streetscape and a loss of community facilities and services, in particular those which support the needs of families. Many HMOs are currently concentrated in areas of the city close to the universities. In these areas, many HMOs, though not all, are occupied by students. Many comments were received from students during the consultation about the proposals which helped inform the decision but some confusion has arisen about some aspects of the proposals.
Cllr Urquhart added: "We have considered all the objections raised. We are very proud of Nottingham's status as a top university city, and I hope students are clear that this decision does not affect existing HMOs and will not suddenly reduce the housing stock available for them as it will only apply to new proposals. There is inevitably a link between the areas which have a high concentration of HMOs and the neighbourhoods in which students live. We want students to continue to play a crucial role in shaping neighbourhoods and communities, but as part of their community and not in isolation.
"A city with diverse communities, with suitable housing for all citizens, gives people choice and flexibility in their decision making about where to live. A balanced neighbourhood is one which offers decent homes that meets the needs of all people while providing a safe and attractive environment in which to live. Introducing an Article 4 Directive will go some way to help achieve this."
[Nottingham City Council Website, 22 November 2011]
OBSERVATIONS ON NOTTINGHAM’S ARTICLE 4 DIRECTION
Over a prolonged period now, there have been many comments made at a variety of meetings, in the press, in other media at all stages of the progress of Nottingham’s Article 4 Direction from February 2011.
These have not always contributed to a better understanding of this piece of planning legislation and its use.
The following observations may go some way towards: lproviding a better understanding of the Direction; lexplaining why the NAG has supported it and its city-wide implementation; lresponding to accusations made before, during and after the consultation, as well as more recently, that the measure is ‘discriminating’ against students and, by removing HMOs from the market place will force them to live in ‘low quality’ (presumably purpose-built) housing; ldrawing attention to the need for the City’s elected Members and their planning and housing strategists to develop policies that enable this tool to be used effectively.
The City of Nottingham needs to continue to develop housing strategies that will provide a sufficiently varied range of housing types and tenures to suit the future needs of an increasingly complex housing market, whilst at the same time ensuring that housing provision goes hand-in-hand with high standards of housing quality and management.
When it comes to HMOs, tools such as the provisions of the Housing Act 2004 (which include HMO licensing), and introduction of DASH (Decent and Safe Homes) standards as part of accreditation schemes provide a sound basis for achieving the latter.
However, until changes to planning legislation (Use Class Order) were enacted in April 2010 there was no tool to enable effective management of the development of HMOs, and especially to mitigate against the recognized adverse effects (environmental, social, economic) of concentrations of HMOs.
The October 2010 amendment of that legislation advocated the use by local authorities of Article 4 Directions to do so.
The following points are central to an appreciation of what the Article 4 Direction is, its uses, and its limitations:
lUntil recently HMOs were the only form of housing development that did not require planning permission to be sought. Use of the Article 4 Direction addresses this anomaly by requiring anyone who wishes to convert a property into an HMO to obtain permission to do so.
lIt is for the local planning authority to decide, based on local planning/housing policies, whether to grant or refuse that permission.
lThus, It is entirely incorrect to assume that refusal of planning permission for conversion to an HMO will be automatic.
lIt enables people living in the neighbourhood around the proposed HMO to have a say in the council’s decision-making process, just as they already do in many other planning developments. In other words, ‘localism’ in action.
lThe planning legislation from which the use of Article 4 Directions has emerged is not retrospective. Therefore, if a property is already an HMO it will remain so unless the owner chooses to change its use. It is incorrect to claim that owners of existing HMOs will need to get planning permission to continue renting out their properties as HMOs, and that their tenants will be forced to look for accommodation elsewhere.
lThe local planning authority has to be prepared to justify its decision to refuse planning permission from ‘family home’ to HMO at a Planning Inspectorate Hearing) and to incur substantial costs if an appeal against refusal is upheld.
lThe definition of HMO used in the Housing Act 2004 has been extended to planning legislation because it avoids unnecessary confusion, and because it has been demonstrated over an extended period to be an effective and workable definition.
lAn increasing number of local authorities across the country are following the same route as the City of Nottingham by introducing Article 4 Directions to manage HMO development. By no means all of these have identified student occupation of HMOs as the reason for seeking powers to do so. Rather, it is HMOs in general, and particularly concentrations of them and their effect on the balance, cohesion and sustainability of neighbourhoods, which is at issue, not the demographic, socio-economic or ethnic status of their tenants.
lIn Nottingham there is no shortage of HMOs, especially those on offer to students. Therefore, since the Article 4 Direction is not retrospective, this means that any reduction in the amount of HMO accommodation available to students and other groups of tenants will only happen if:
(a) Owners decide not to rent out to students which, bearing in mind the rental potential and guaranteed demand, is not likely;
(b) Students become more discerning about the quality of what they rent and how much rent they pay. This may well persuade some owners (especially the least desirable) to quit the student HMO market, which we suggest is something that students, universities, council, ‘professional’ landlords and agents, as well as established residents, support since it would help to drive up standards of maintenance and management, and so would be of considerable benefit to all parties involved;
(c) There is a substantial and sustained increase in the student population, akin to that in the 1990’s and early to mid-2000’s, unlikely in the present economic climate.
lTherefore, it is difficult to see how implementation of the Article 4 Direction in the City of Nottingham will have a detrimental, disproportionate or discriminatory impact on students and their choice of housing.
lNeither is it going to force them into purpose built accommodation since, for example:
(a) The rentals in purpose built accommodation and halls of residence are substantially higher than those in HMOs and likely to remain so;
(b) The simple fact is that there are not (and not likely to be in the foreseeable future) sufficient bed spaces available in purpose built accommodation and halls of residence to house more than at most the majority of first year students and a proportion of returners.
lFor a number of reasons, particularly to avoid liability for claims for compensation, there is usually a twelve-month period before the Article 4 Direction becomes effective. Conversion into an HMO can, and often does, take place very quickly indeed. Consequently, the character, balance, cohesion and sustainability of a neighbourhood can be affected well before an Article 4 Direction can be put in place. This inherent inflexibility of an Article 4, and the problems arising from it, are avoided if, as in this instance, the designation of the Direction is city-wide.
Nottingham’s Article 4 Direction is merely a tool, but one which, allied to sound and co-ordinated housing and planning policies, will go some considerable way towards ensuring that all residents of the City of Nottingham have the opportunity to choose the housing that best suits their requirements, whether to buy their homes or rent them, and whether to live in the city or move out of it.
Without the management potential of the Article 4 Direction and its utilization, those choices will be even more limited than they are now.
POSTSCRIPT: AS ONE DOOR CLOSES ANOTHER OPENS
Notice of an Article 4 Direction has now been given by 25 councils. Some, like Nottingham’s, are city-wide, whilst others are specific to selected neighbourhoods. As Richard mentioned in the HMO Lobby Report, the first to come into effect was Manchester’s city-wide Direction and the rest, if they have not done so already, will do so during 2012.
Just before Christmas 2011, Richard alerted members of the Lobby that from Leeds City Council planning officers he had learned that a national landlord association had written to Government (Department for Communities and Local Government) stating that their belief that 19 local authorities, in drafting their Article 4 Direction boundaries, had gone beyond what can be reasonably justified in terms of the sizes of the areas included in the Direction. They had asked the Secretary of State to cancel these directions.
Richard’s message also included the e-mail he’d sent in response to this information to Grant Shapps MP (Minister for Housing). As a member, the NAG has always endeavoured to provide whatever support it can to the Lobby; in this instance doubly so since Nottingham has been confirmed to be one of the 19 local authorities. To this end, an e-mail was sent on the 3 January, 2012 to
the Secretary of State (Eric Pickles MP) and to Grant Shapps), on behalf of the NAG, detailing why the NAG believes that a city-wide Article 4 Direction is an appropriate choice for Nottingham City Council to have made, pointing out that:
‘...in the present economic climate, Nottingham City Council’s officers would not have been prepared to recommend a measure that would involve a sizeable amount of extra resources without good reason. Equally, Nottingham City Council’s Executive Board would not have endorsed these recommendations had it not felt that this was the right choice to make for the City of Nottingham, both in terms of implementation of an Article 4 Direction, and, just as importantly, its geographical extent.
... you could say, with a good deal of justification, that this decision by Nottingham City Council, based on a local, Nottingham City-based assessment of need is very much an example of localism in action and clearly what the Minister (Mr. Shapps) advocated local authorities should do when, in October 2010, he removed the requirement for planning permission to be obtained for conversion from C3 to C4 dwellings. In the light of this, I would argue very strongly that for central government to now do as the landlord associations ask would be to go against the spirit of localism.
... whilst one can appreciate why, to use a Greater Nottingham example, a local authority such as Broxtowe Borough, which is made up of several district areas with separate, very distinct communities (e.g. the townships of Beeston and Eastwood) might not consider an authority-wide Article 4 Direction to be appropriate, this is not the case for Nottingham City Council. The City of Nottingham is a continuous urban area with very tightly drawn boundaries and in this instance a city-wide Article 4 Direction makes good sense.
Other National HMO Lobby groups have also written to CLG on this topic. Richard has had some correspondence from CLG, confirming that representations have been made to the Secretary of State, so it appears that at a national level the storm over HMOs and Article 4 Directions has yet to blow itself out, and much the same can be said for Nottingham where it seems likely that the validity of the City’s Direction will be challenged.
However, even without this potential setback, the date when Nottingham’s Direction comes into operation (11 March) will not mark the end of the story. Rather, it will bring to a close the first part, whilst opening the door to the next, and potentially the most important, phase: how the Direction is used (and, of course, how it is enforced).
As Richard has mentioned, and as the NAG has continued to emphasize at all stages, the Direction is only a tool, providing the Council with the ability to control HMOs. In itself, it is not sufficient to justify refusal of planning permission. That requires the appropriate planning policies to be in place.
Also, for Nottingham as a whole to get the most overall benefit from the Direction, it is going to be important for the planning policies to form part of the ‘bigger picture’, i.e. to be allied to the City’s future housing strategy.
As you will see in the next section, following public consultation, the City Council is now reviewing and revising its housing and planning strategies.
The NAG has made submissions to both consultations. These are lengthy documents which will be available for download from the NAG website once it has been updated. In the meantime, if you are interested in seeing copies, please contact the NAG: Tel 07762-525-625; E-mail email@example.com.
AND NOW ... THE REST OF THE NEWS
Motion on Private Rented Sector Housing in Nottingham Presented to the December Meeting of Nottingham City Council
Given the increasing pressure on all housing sectors in Nottingham and the important role that the Private Rented Sector (PRS) plays in housing provision in the city, it is all the more important that the City Council supports PRS to deliver a good service but also helps tenants to tackle poor landlords. The Council will therefore:
•Establish a Nottingham City wide kitemark for standards in private rented accommodation to expand the coverage of landlord accreditation which recognises existing work carried out through Unipol and other schemes;
•Create and promote a register of landlords and properties that meet this standard;
•Respond to complaints from citizens and take appropriate action including enforcement to protect citizen health, safety and well being;
•Increase and improve engagement with PRS landlords through the Housing Strategic Partnership and the Landlord Liaison Panel.’
[Councillor Alex Ball, Executive Assistant, Housing, Regeneration & Community Sector, November, 2011]
HOUSING NOTTINGHAM PLAN
Nottingham’s Housing Strategic Partnership (HSP) is developing a new housing strategy for the city known as the ‘Housing Nottingham Plan’.
Over the summer and autumn months citizens have helped us by completing a quick survey. The results of the survey will help us to develop our new plan. We wish to express our thanks to all those who participated in the survey and congratulations to the winners of the free prize draws.
We are expecting the draft of the new Housing Nottingham Plan to be ready by early spring 2012.
We will use this web page to keep citizens updated on the progress.
[Nottingham City Council Website, 12 December, 2011]
LAND & PLANNING POLICIES
This Development Plan Document combines two documents that were formerly known as ‘Site Specific Land Allocations and Policies DPD’ and ‘Generic Development Control Policies DPD’.
•Nottingham City Council is developing a new Local Plan, called the ‘Land Planning `policies Development Plan Document’, which will help shape new development in the City over the coming years. This is separate from the Core Strategy.
•The purpose of the plan is to make sure that new development meets the needs of Nottingham’s citizens, while protecting what is best about the City.
•The first stage in the production of the plan is informal and is called the ‘Issues and Options’. This document underwent consultation from the 26 September 2011 until the 21 November 2011.
•The full document can be downloaded from ... [the Nottingham City Council website – as can the separate sections of the document: Editor’s Note]
[Nottingham City Council Website, 11 November, 2011]
PRIVATE RENTED SECTOR COUNCIL TAX
Deputy Claims City is Being Punished Over its Student Population
Nottingham is being penalised by the Government for having a student population, according to the city council's deputy leader.
Councils receive money from the Government to compensate for the fact that students do not pay council tax.
And Graham Chapman says this funding has been slashed by 27 per cent for 2012/13.
He said the cut will cost the council £3.477m a year.
Mr Chapman said: "The Government used to compensate us £1,415 per student property, and from that it's going down to £1,035.
"It means we will lose £3.477m. That will be part of £24m cuts we planned already.”
The figure is based on the 2012/2013 formula grant, Government money given to councils based on the needs of their area and population.
This grant is worked out according to factors like how much council tax is paid and how wealthy its population is.
A Government spokesman disputed the council's figures, saying the formula grant is not ring fenced and it is up to the council how much they choose to spend on each area.
The spokesman said: "It is an un-ring-fenced block grant which means local authorities are free to use it for any service.
"For this reason, and due to the method of calculating formula grant, it is not possible to say how much grant has been provided for any particular service, including any amount for student council tax exemption.”
Mr Chapman said: "It's another way of hitting cities and not rural shires. It's definitely not the fault of the students but cities are the motors of the economy, so this will hurt growth.”
Alex Corck-Adelman, president of the University of Nottingham Students' Union, said: "We are confused as to how Nottingham City Council is claiming to know such specific figures, given that after numerous requests, we are yet to receive a satisfactory explanation of how their estimations are calculated.
"We understand and appreciate that the council, as with most organisations around the country, is facing financial difficulties and funding cuts. This, however, should not be used to target students as a means of raising funds.”
Nottingham Trent University Students’ Union said: “It is regrettable that the Government’s decision is going to affect local spending cuts.
“But students will continue to be a significant asset to the city. Each year students bring millions in revenue and benefits to the local community.”
[Nottingham Post, Tuesday, 22 November, 2011]
‘No man is an island, entire of itself ...’
In the nearly eight years since the Nottingham Action Group on HMOs (NAG) was formally constituted, its work has concentrated in three, often overlapping, areas: National (as a member of the National HMO Lobby); Nottingham (as the group representing the interests of Nottingham residents who live in areas where HMOs are of concern); Neighbourhood (working to improve the quality of the environment for residents and HMO tenants living in areas where there are HMOs).
The business of the NAG is conducted by an elected committee consisting of Chair, Secretary and Treasurer plus no more than three other members with full voting rights. However, from time to time, the committee does co-opt individual members whose special interests and/or expertise can make a valuable contribution to its work. Co-opted members do not have voting rights.
The NAG’s membership is drawn from residents living in neighbourhoods which are predominantly within the City, although there are also members in West Bridgford and Beeston. These neighbourhoods, and the experiences and expectations of our members living in them, are diverse and sometimes difficult to reconcile.
However, to try and ensure that the NAG does the best it can to represent everyone’s views and ideas, the Group now has an Executive. This is made up of the Committee and a variable number of other members (currently around 12) whose homes are in a wider range of neighbourhoods than those of Committee members, who want to contribute their knowledge and skills to the work of the NAG, but who are not able to take up a position on the Committee. The structure of the Executive is informal: members usually join because they have been suggested to the Committee by other members, or because they have expressed an interest in joining.
The majority of the work of the Committee and the Executive is carried on via e-mail and telephone. However, as and when necessary, the Committee does meet in person, and has done so on several occasions over the period of this report (June 2009 to November 2011). On occasion, the Committee has also met with representatives of outside bodies, though, by and large, such meetings have been held at Executive, rather than Committee level. For example the Committee recently met with City Councillors whose portfolio responsibilities are relevant to the NAG’s work (e.g. Housing, Planning, Community), while examples of meetings at Executive level include a meeting with Nottingham University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor with responsibility for community affairs in February 2010 to prepare the ground for a NAG open meeting with representatives from both universities; a meeting in August 2011 with City Council Housing officers in advance of the NAG’s submission to the Nottingham City Housing Strategy consultation; and a meeting with representatives from Nottingham Trent University scheduled for January 2012.
The Group has continued to hold regular meetings. As you will see from the list below, the majority of them have been open to everyone. However, from time to time it has been felt appropriate to hold meetings for NAG members only in order to facilitate free and frank discussion on a variety of issues.
•February 2010: Open meeting with Parliamentary candidates
•March 2010: Open meeting with Nottingham University & Nottingham Trent University
•April 2010: Open Joint Unipol-NAG (U-NAG) meeting
•May 2010: Open meeting with City Council officers from the Neighbourhood Services Team
•June 2010: Open meeting with City Council officers from the HMO & Environmental Services team
•July 2010: Open meeting on HMOs and Planning Legislation with City Council Planning officers
•September 2010: Open meeting with Nottingham University representatives
•October 2010: NAG Executive meeting
•November 2010: Open meeting with City Council enforcement officers
•December 2010: Members & guests Christmas ‘Bring and Share’ meeting
•January 2011: Open meeting with Dr. Darren Smith
•February 2011: Open meeting on control of letting boards
•March 2011: NAG Executive meeting
•April 2011: Closed NAG members meeting
•May 2011: Open Joint Unipol-NAG (U-NAG) meeting
•June 2011: NAG Executive meeting
•August 2011: NAG Executive meeting
•September 2011: Open Joint Unipol-NAG (U-NAG) meeting
•October 2011: Open meeting with City Council Planning officers
•November 2011: Closed NAG Business meeting
•December 2011: Members & guests Christmas ‘Bring and Share’ meeting
This pattern is set to continue in 2012 with meetings planned for:
•January 2012: NAG Executive meeting with Nottingham Trent representatives
•February 2012: Open meeting with City Council enforcement team officers
•April 2012: Open Joint Unipol-NAG (U-NAG) meeting
•May or June 2012: Open meeting with City Council Planning officers.
In addition, NAG members have continued to take part in meetings, formal (e.g. Nottingham City Council’s Student Co-ordination & Delivery Group) and informal (e.g. with Councillors and Council officers from a variety of different sections of Nottingham City Council, Nottingham Trent University representatives, representatives from the students’ unions of both universities, Unipol officers).
The NAG submitted comments to a number of consultations in the period 2009-2011, the most significant ones being:
•July 2009: Submission to Central Government’s national consultation on proposed changes to the planning system.
•August 2009: Submission to Nottingham City Council: comments on the Core Strategy
•April 2010: Submission to Nottingham City Council: comments on the Core Strategy Option
•July 2010: Submission to Central Government: revised proposals for changes to the planning system
•April 2011: Submission to Nottingham City Council: comments on the proposed Article 4 Direction
•April 2011: Submission to Nottingham City Council: comments on proposals to control letting boards
•August 2011: Submission to Central Government: comments on Nottingham City Council application for Regulation 7 Direction to control letting boards
•October 2011: Submission to Nottingham City Council: comments on proposed new Housing Strategy
•November 2011: Submission to Nottingham City Council: comments on the Land and Planning Policies (LAPP) DPD Issues and Options consultation
E-mail is the main method of communication between members of the Committee and the Executive, and with members of the National HMO Lobby, local MPs, Nottingham City Council Councillors and Council officers, representatives from the two universities and the students’ unions. However, a substantial number of the Group’s members cannot be contacted in this way. So, the membership as a whole continues to receive regular letters about forthcoming meetings and information about local and national developments connected to HMOs, for example consultations and how they can make their personal views known, as well as other matters of general interest that may be useful for them to be aware of.
The last issue of the Group’s magazine was published in January 2010. The next issue has been delayed, largely because of an increasing amount of other NAG-related commitments which have eaten into the time available for collection of items, collation, editing and final formatting of the document prior to printing. However, the first part of the next issue is almost completed and it is hoped it will be ready to go to the printers before the end of this year. The second part still requires some up-dating, especially in view of recent developments such as the Article 4 Direction, and may not be ready for publication until early in 2012. The format of the last issue was a departure from that of previous issues, but seems to have been favourably received by most readers.
The NAG website is somewhat dated in appearance and content. A revamp has started and, provided sufficient resources (i.e. time and effort) are available, it should be fully up-to-date in early 2012. However, even in its present state it continues to bring in enquiries from people living in Nottingham and elsewhere in the country who are experiencing problems with HMOs, as well as enquiries from students at Nottingham’s two universities and elsewhere seeking information and interviews as part of their degree course work. The website also provides the Group with a non-confidential/private e-mail address.
Statement of Accounts
The Group’s accounts for the period 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2010 have been examined. They are available for inspection provided 21 days notice is given to the Treasurer and/or the Chair. Inspection of the current year’s accounts (January 2011 to 23 November 2011) is also possible, again with the 21 days notice to the Treasurer and/or Chair.
The current balance of the account is £2774.91, of which £2473.61 is Nottingham City Council funding and £301.30 is funds obtained from donations, raffles, etc. Excluding the cost of printing and distribution of the magazine, the major cost continues to be printing and mailing of letters and other information, along with room hire.
Costs associated with the provision at meetings of light refreshments, cakes, biscuits, etc. have been borne by individual members, as have been any costs associated with travel to attend meetings. No payments have been made to cover the cost of day-to-day internet provision, and management of the Group’s finances has concentrated on ‘good housekeeping’.
The Committee will need to seek new funding as a matter of urgency if the Group’s work is to continue. Funding for the voluntary sector is now under considerable pressure and it is possible that future funding will be restricted, or indeed will not become available. The Group must be prepared for these eventualities.
National HMO Lobby
Although the main thrust of the NAG’s work is now focused on local (Nottingham) issues, the Group continues to be part of the National HMO Lobby, receiving information from other, similar organizations in the Lobby and, whenever appropriate, sharing this with relevant Ward Councillors and Council officers. Information from Nottingham is also shared with the Lobby. In fact the Lobby continues to be an important resource for the NAG and for other similar groups in towns and cities across the country.
National: The NAG will continue to liaise with other National HMO Lobby members, share information, and provide support and advice whenever called upon to do so.
Nottingham: The Committee would like to welcome Mark Simmonds, who was appointed by Nottingham Trent University earlier this year as its first Community Liaison Officer. This is a positive and much needed development. The Group continues to develop a useful working relationship with Nottingham Trent University, as evidenced by the meeting of the Executive with Nottingham Trent representatives in November 2010, and the one due to take place in January next year. However, it has failed to re-establish the progressive relationship it had until two or three years ago with Nottingham University.
As and when circumstances have allowed, the Group has worked with individual students and with the students’ unions to improve the quality and management of student accommodation. It has to be added that relationships with the students’ unions have been very much strained by the Article 4 Direction and the debate around it.
It is to be hoped that, having established a formal association with Unipol (U-NAG), this relationship will continue to be mutually beneficial, though a good deal of development work is need if it is to achieve its full potential.
Special reference should be made to the degree to which the Group and Unipol have worked together in setting up the voluntary code of practice for letting boards, in monitoring it, and, latterly, in moving forward to a code that can be legally enforced by the City Council.
The City Council is continuing to restructure its departments. Unfortunately, this process has had a detrimental impact on the way in which the NAG has been able to continue to work with the Student Strategy Manager in particular, and also with other officers in Environmental Services, Waste Management, Neighbourhood Services and City Services.
Officers whom the NAG had come to respect and to work closely with have left, and this has meant that effort is having to be directed towards establishing new working relationships.
This is not always proving to be very easy. Often the changes have also meant that what the NAG is, who it represents, and what it does have had to be explained again and again to new contacts.
The future of the Student Strategy Manager post is unclear at this time. As the only such post in the country, it was an innovative appointment, supported by the NAG, which reflected the City’s often equally innovative approaches to tackling issues related to HMOs.
It would be a backward step indeed if this valuable post was to be allowed to lapse, or was not used to its full potential.
Neighbourhood: The last report in June 2009 concluded that ‘Improvements in the environments of our neighbourhoods have occurred, but they are patchy, sporadic and inconsistent. They are expensive in terms of manpower and finances, and we continue to be faced with a declining permanent resident population.’
The same comments are still pertinent. Although new members continue to join and our mailing lists remain surprisingly buoyant, it is a sad fact that there is a steady haemorrhage of familiar names and faces at meetings as people leave to live elsewhere, become dispirited and disillusioned and decide to ‘put up with things’, or, even more sadly, die.
However, the Group continues to bring together residents from different parts of Nottingham.
It continues to focus the attention of the Council, the universities, students’ unions and landlords on the issues that are important to our members.
It continues to provide a forum where everyone: residents, Councillors, Council officers, university representatives, representatives from the students’ unions, students, owner-occupiers, tenants ... can, if they wish, meet, discuss issues and actions, and share and exchange information and ideas.
When planning applications or planning appeals have come within the overall remit of the NAG, support has been given to residents and councillors. On a number of occasions the Committee has written in a formal capacity to oppose these applications and appeals
Through its meetings, it continues to support ‘neighbourhood spirit’ by fostering links between residents in different parts of our neighbourhoods, as evidenced by the successful ‘Bring and Share’ Evening last Christmas. Another ‘Bring and Share’ Evening is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, 7 December 2011.
If at all possible, it is hoped that a similar event, or events, can take place in 2012.
With confirmation of the Article 4 Direction on HMOs, it is to be expected that a good deal of effort in 2012 will centre around how the Direction is going to be used, and its impact on individual residents as well as neighbourhoods.
The NAG Committee and Executive had already begun to explore this aspect of HMO control with Councillors, Council officers and NAGgers in 2010 when the changes in national planning legislation first came into effect. Of course, this was put on hold when the legislation changed again, and during the period until now when it was by no means certain that Nottingham City Council would indeed adopt the Direction.
However, the effort put in then has not been wasted. It will provide a useful starting point for what are likely to be complex and sensitive discussions with difficult decisions to be made at the end of them.
[Committee of the Nottingham Action Group on HMOs, Tuesday, 22 November 2011]
OUR NEIGHBOURHOODS: A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The student population of the city is a driver, though not the only one, behind the conversion of traditional housing, previously occupied by families, into HMOs: a significant contribution to the increasing imbalance and loss of social capital in so many of our neighbourhoods.
The extent to which this change has continued is illustrated by data showing that in the period 2006/2007 to 2010/2011 the number of students seeking accommodation in the city increased from 33,9767 to 40,615, whilst the number of purpose-built bed spaces only rose from 13,882 to 15,218, leading to an additional demand of 5,312 bed spaces in private rented flats or houses.
However, as intimated, students are by no means the only demographic or socio-economic group driving the creation of HMOs (shared houses), and their impact on the housing market should not be looked at in isolation.
The HMO market is already a source of accommodation for a variety of different groups, e.g. so-called ‘young’ professionals (graduate and non-graduate), migrant workers, asylum seekers.
It can only be supposed (and projections support this) that proposed changes in housing benefit legislation, high property prices and difficulties in obtaining mortgages (which mean that more and more young people find themselves unable to get a foot on the housing ladder until at least their mid-thirties) will increase the demand for rented accommodation, HMOs in particular.
Neither should it be assumed that in Nottingham, where we have two very successful universities, increases in tuition fees will result in reduced student intake, and reduced demand for off-campus homes.
Of late, there has been a developing trend for some landlords and agents to talk about ‘professionals, ‘medics’ and ‘nurses’ living in HMOs and to intimate that somehow the issues around HMOs are confined to those properties occupied by student. Because of the similarities in profile, especially demographic, and the short-term nature of the tenancies, though very different in some ways from student tenants and the student market, HMOs catering for these groups can (and local experience supports this) and do have a similar impact on the neighbourhoods around them.
Therefore, planning and housing policies concerning HMOs should be focused on HMOs as a form of tenure, regardless of the nature of the occupants.
The consultation stage of Nottingham’s draft housing strategy (the Housing Nottingham Plan) highlighted the importance of ensuring that the Council (as the authority with direct responsibility for housing and planning) delivers housing choices to a range of different groups. This is a laudable ambition and not one that the NAG would want to challenge.
Indeed a good part of the NAG’s effort in responding to the Council’s consultations on housing and planning matters has been directed towards suggesting ways in which these ambitions can be achieved through appropriate utilization of existing housing, which may include, in addition to newly-built housing:
- return to family use of HMOs,
- adapting existing residential housing which is not likely to meet the requirements of modern families to provide a choice of accommodation for individuals or groups not necessarily seeking family-type housing,
- adapting and recommissioning unwanted commercial and industrial buildings to provide cluster flats and/or apartments.
However, there is a challenge which needs to be made here on behalf of the residents in our neighbourhoods who, by and large, feel that their choices are increasingly less important than those of the owners and users of HMOs, and that the impact that HMOs have on the balance and vitality of the neighbourhoods in which they live is increasingly excluding them and their families from enjoying the very things that made them choose to live where they do.
No doubt the reasons they chose to live in these neighbourhoods are many and varied, but there is a common thread that runs through all of them, encapsulated in their own words in back issues of the magazine. Some of these are re-printed here:
- ‘... a pleasant place to live’;
- ‘... a beautiful, leafy quiet neighbourhood so near the city centre’;
- ... a pleasant, tree-lined road … with multi-racial and multi-aged family units with all the usual amenities and facilities in place’;
- ‘What we really wanted was a house we could call home, not too far out of the city and within our limited budget’;
- ‘... we had been searching for a traditional, well-built family house. It was wonderful when we secured our property in what, then, was a residential oasis. A good place to live’;
- ‘The surrounding properties were all family dwellings. Some of the families had children of much the same age as our own. Friendships formed very quickly and it was indeed very enjoyable to live here’;
- ‘There was a strong feeling of community and the neighbourhood had a pleasant ambiance’;
- ‘Properties were well maintained, gardens well cared for and well stocked and it felt good to be living here’;
- ‘She always had time for a gossip over the hedge or a cup of tea … her beautiful garden meant everything to her and was always kept immaculate. The same applied to the couple on the other side of me – quiet people, very private, but with a deep love of their garden;’
- ‘... this neighbourhood has traditionally attracted professional people working in the city. Although it is close to main roads, our cul-de-sac has a quiet, residential setting’;
- ‘This area was once very pleasant, suitable for small families, children and disabled people’;
- ‘I am told that [this] was once an area full of residents who looked out for each other. The ones that remain or who have recently moved out have given me a taste of that’.
[Based on extracts from NAG submissions made in 2011 to consultations on Nottingham’s Housing Strategy 2012-2015 & the LAPP DPD]