At the recent full council meeting of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), on 7.10.2015, the Liberal Democrat group tabled a question about the growing numbers of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) in Stevenage. A HMO is generally where a group of people, usually not related, share a larger house.
The question stated:
Many residents are concerned about the growing local trend for increasing numbers of properties to be changed to Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which is facilitated by changes to HMO planning regulations. What is the council doing to minimise this practice, by:
- Making strong representations to the Government for changes in this legislation;
- Implementing Article 4 Directions to reduce this practice locally;
- Making Stevenage residents aware of the practice and the powers, or lack of powers, possessed by the council to deal with these matters?
The answers provided at the meeting by the majority all-Labour Executive members can be summarized as:
- Before this was done, the council would need to be able to prove that there was a local problem.
- HMOs are not a local problem.
Commenting after the meeting, Liberal Democrat group leader stated:
“The issue is a great source of worry to many local householders, many of whom have lived in their area for many decades and I think that SBC owe them some peace of mind.”
“I believe (and said at the meeting) that SBC should take action to put in place Article 4 Directions in the most badly affected areas of Stevenage. This would require that planning permission from SBC would be required before an HMO could be established. Under new planning rules brought in by former Secretary of State Eric Pickles, a conversion to an HMO needs no planning permission at all from the local council, as long as only up to 6 people live there and they share at least one facility, e.g. a kitchen or a bathroom.”
“The response from Labour was very disappointing. In the Manor Ward alone, myself and colleagues have received many complaints about the fact that family homes are being lost because they have changed to HMOs, but it also affects other areas where there are larger houses. Amongst the issues that concern local residents are, for example, that many people living in one property can cause parking problems, so there will be pressure to turn more green spaces and paved areas into parking areas; Stevenage was built for family homes and too many HMOs would alter the balance of the local community; the companies doing these conversions into HMOs often are from out of town and have little or no interest in Stevenage.”