Local Government London South West West Midlands

Local Authorities’ obsession with “studentification” harms everyone

Student Spotlight
India Cocking
Written by India Cocking

University towns are ushering in controversial new planning restrictions in a bid to stop the “studentification” of certain areas.

Article 4 directions can stop landlords converting family homes into Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) – the shared houses commonly associated with student living.

The directions work in two ways – they can stop a particular type of development (for example the creation of new HMOs) anywhere in a council area, or can restrict permitted rights in a particular area or site.

When an Article 4 direction is in effect, a planning application may be require for development that would have otherwise been permitted.

In relation to HMOs landlords must get planning permission before converting what was formerly a family home (Class 3 home) into a HMO  (Class 4 home).

It is up to the local authority whether they implement an Article 4 direction, and existing shared houses are not affected.

These planning restrictions are often favoruited by university or student towns as a way to stop the spread of student housing, and applications have been made several times in university towns in the last few months.

Mark Turner, a solicitor at FBC Manby Bowdler told the Wolverhampton Express and Star; “It’s a controversial move because some consider students and young professionals to be valuable to the local economy because they use the shops, pubs, takeaways, cafes and restaurants etc.

“However, others dislike the anti social behaviour, which can be associated with these groups, particularly students.

“Wolverhampton City Council has obviously introduced the Article 4 direction to prevent over ‘studentification’ of areas.”

Wolverhampton City Council’s official Article 4 Direction in relation to Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) came into force on Thursday 14th September and will last indefinitely.

This planning restriction covers the entirety of the City of Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton’s scheme states that “planning permission will be required to change the use of a house to a small House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) accommodating 3-6 people.” Read more on the council’s website.

The London Borough of Bexley’s Article 4 Direction came into force on 24th September, and is borough wide.

In defence of this new legislation the council said: “The Direction will allow the Council to manage the fast growth in small HMOs and the resulting loss of family housing, enabling the Council to control the number and distribution of small HMOs via planning, determine the appropriateness of new HMOs on a case by case basis and ensure they contribute to sustainable neighbourhoods.”

Its neighbouring borough, Greenwich, has quickly followed on after the approval of their borough wide  Additional Licensing Scheme (which sets back landlords £377 per habitable room) by announcing an Article 4 consultation which started on 27th.

This consultation for this borough wide scheme ends on 26th October, we urge our members in joining us in making an official response apposing this scheme.

These Council’s are no way alone in their recent enthusiasm for this planning restriction.

Bath and North East Somerset’s Article 4 consultation comes to a close on 10th October 2017, Crawley’s comes into force on 1st October, Sefton’s starts next year, and Stevenage’s started on 20th September.

The full list of Article 4 designations and the links to the council’s pages can be found on the RLA’s dedicated Article 4 page.

Consultations on these schemes are held by law by local authorities.

The RLA makes an official response to all local government licensing proposals, opposing the schemes, we believe these measures are generally the wrong legislation to deal with social problems perceived to be related to HMOs.

HMOs have long been seen as the home of students, free from the halls of first year, second and third years try their hand at living independently for the first time.

But with home ownership showing no signs of improving, especially for young professionals, shared accommodation is a life line that is vital.

HMOs are the key to; living in a nicer, safer area where rents for a single home or flat exceeds starter wages, new friends in a new city or country, and a taste of independent living without living alone.

Under the guise of stopping uncleaned bins and loud student parties with new HMO legislation, keeping the number of new landlords down, and forcing established landlords out of the market, these local authorities are hurting the often neglected and forgotten single, low paid workers.

An average rent in London is £1,246 a month, and with graduate-jobs.com setting the average graduate wage as £19,000 – £22,000 or £1,340.60 – £1,510.60 per month after tax, not even considering the the cost of living, the maths is not showing a promising picture for graduates.

But the graduates and students aren’t the only ones struggling. Newly qualified nurses can expect a salary of £22,128, the drivers of the iconic black cabs take home an average of £23,000, and the average retail workers in London’s world renowned shops can expect between £11,167 – £19,492. Elsewhere in the country these professionals aren’t fairing much better.

Removing HMOs will force students into university accommodation and force low paid workers, or those who just prefer the company of a shared houses, fighting over the last few remaining Article 4 free areas.

Families aren’t escaping scot-free either.

Introducing an Article 4 direction takes the current HMOs out of the family housing market as landlords risk losing the existing rights of shared houses if they even temporarily house a single occupancy.

These restrictions do nothing to reverse the negative impact shared houses can have on an area, if anything they put areas without a HMO population at higher risk as new HMOs will be on the look out for new areas.

Owners can also expect their properties value to take a hit, by up to 30%, because the market for investment is reduced and landlords looking for properties that can withstand a change in demand will be excluded from the market.

In place of an Article 4 direction the RLA suggests a number of alternative approaches, including; allowing landlords to use their house for family homes (c3) and HMOs interchangeably, dealing with the social issues that may arise within HMO accommodation through proper means such as environmental health and the police, not relying on landlords, and dealing with rogue and criminal landlords through accreditation and self-regulation.

These licensing and planning schemes do nothing but anticipate social problems and harm good and lawful landlords who will follow legislative changes whilst criminal landlords will continue to create hidden, overcrowded, and dangerous HMOs which the local authority will find continually difficult to find, regulate, and prosecute.

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About the author

India Cocking

India Cocking

India is the Local Government Officer for the RLA. Having completed her degree in International Politics at Aberystwyth University, India is currently working on updating and maintaining the Local Authority Network. This is of importance as it strengthens communication and understanding between landlords, local authorities, and the RLA. India is working towards gathering concise and clear data from all 435 local authorities on their licencing, fees, news, events and contact details.

Before joining the RLA India worked at Martin and Co Lettings Agent in her home town of Derby, the Welsh Assembly, and her local MP, alongside helping her parents run the family buy-to-let business.

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