On March 16th, under delegated powers, our council granted consent for the conversion of a two-bedroom flat at Rosewell Court in the city centre to an HMO (Home of Multiple Occupation). This approval was retroactive, in that the conversion had already taken place but the law required that planning permission should have been applied for and granted, had not been, and needed to be.
As is normal, the council based its approval on its policy decisions in relation to HMOs. These include Policy H2 of the council’s Core Strategy and Placemaking Plan which, inter alia, is designed to ensure that an HMOs will be ‘compatible with the character of adjacent uses’, will not ‘significantly affect the amenity of adjoining residents’ or result in the ‘unacceptable loss of accommodation in a locality in terms of mix, size and type.’ In addition, the council’s Supplementary Planning Document, Homes in Multiple Occupation in Bath, adopted in November 2017, is intended to ensure that similar undesirable consequences are avoided by preventing the accumulation of HMOs beyond a specified limit in any particular residential area.
On the face of it, and in normal circumstances, the application of these laudable principles in combination should underline that the council has consistent objectives in relation to HMOs and that, provided that its policies are enforced, these objectives will be met.
But these are not normal circumstances. Providing about two hundred and twenty homes, mostly two and three-bedroom flats in four to five-storey buildings with balcony access Rosewell Court makes an important contribution to the limited supply of affordable family accommodation in the city centre. The conversion for which planning consent has been granted has transformed a typical two-bedroom flat into a three-bedroom unit with a single bathroom and no shared space of the type favoured by short term renters, holiday renters and students.
In approving this conversion, the council is in danger of bringing about the exact opposite of what its policies are designed to achieve. Having set a precedent, the council will find it hard to resist pressure from other owners to follow suit. Rosewell Court has a history of serious social problems including drug dealing and abuse, petty crime, noise and disturbance and other forms of anti-social behaviour resulting in police visits. Any accumulation of HMOs in a development that lacks any shared external facilities other than a council car park will be likely to make all these problems worse. In due course, if HMO conversions multiply, the council may feel justified in refusing further applications.
Unfortunately, none of these arguments appear to have been seen by the Development Management Committee (other than the Chair) despite a request for referral by a Ward Councillor, objections by TARA and local residents were ignored and, inexplicably, as principal landlords at Rosewell Court, neither Curo nor the council itself elected to comment.
To TARA, this seems to amount to faulty administration. There is no right of appeal in England to the granting of a planning consent except under Judicial Review.