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Landlord Rant Of The Month - October 2021

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This month we have to talk about Portsmouth Planning Committee and its almost demonic desire to stop any new HMO's from being created

What Happened This Month 

 There were 2 meetings this month, the first spent an inordinate amount of time looking for reasons to reject an HMO in St Chads Avenue, the 2nd more quickly came to a conclusion on another in Farlington Avenue.

We could run through a blow-by-blow account of the debate on each of these, but suffice it to say, the common factor is poorly prepared Planning Officers coupled with a strange part in person, part online meeting process and an intermediary conveying comments of the Planning Officers which collectively sets the committee up to fail.

Using these 2 cases as examples:

- St Chads led to a long debate about changes to the property which had already been undertaken under 'Permitted Development' rights and over which the committee had no responsibility to review. The submitted drawings had to have an indicative layout of the rooms, so included things like washing machines and kitchen units.  This one was finally refused on the grounds that the washing machine abutted a wall which had a bedroom on the other side and this would not be suitable. Apart from the fact that the washing machine probably would not actually be put there for exactly those reasons, the property met all of the required standards specified in the councils 'strategic planning document' which defines such things as well as the 'HMO Standards' document which the licensing team use when deciding whether to licence a property.  

- Farlington Avenue was even simpler.  We had the normal strange debate that although all the information supplied stated it would be a home for 6 and the council Licensing team would not issue a licence for more, the planning category was a 'home for 6 to 10 people' and this one was not suitable for 10 and should therefore be rejected. (This was a red herring as the application was for 'C4' - max 6 people, not 'sui generis' 7 - 10 people). Anyway, once that digression completed (well, at least until the next HMO application comes up), we moved onto the hunt for grounds upon which this application could be rejected.

All of the 6 rooms were larger than 10 square metres, so there was no need for additional communal space beyond the kitchen/diner according to Portsmouth's own rules. However, the 2nd floor front bedroom was under a sloping roof and after some debate and guesswork, it was decided that the usable space in that room (space with a ceiling height of 1.5m or more as specified in the RICS Blue Book) was probably less than 10 square metres so the application could be rejected on grounds of lack of communal space.

In reality, the space calculation for that room was based on the RICS Blue Book and the usable space was over 10 square metres - so this house met all the necessary criteria. A point to note,  this property was 'already subject to appeal on grounds of non-determination' and the planning officer made a mistake in original recommendation as he/she overlooked the 10 sq m rule.

If the PCC Planning team understood their own rules, reviewed applications and checked details to confirm that they met the rules and then had the temerity to tell Councillors what was and was not relevant to debate - these 2 examples would not have to go to appeal (at cost to PCC and the taxpayer, not to mention loss of income to the landlord) and a huge amount of time and hot air would be saved by all concerned.

We have what could be a great city - it needs big ideas and grand schemes, it needs vision and imagination and one of the areas where all of this could be brought to bear is in the application of Planning rules yet instead we worry about washing machines being adjacent to bedrooms and nickel and dime space calculations or curtilage boundaries to try and assuage the 'public dislike of HMO's' which is actually no different to the shortage of petrol - it does not exist but it upsets many people because of the mass hysteria created by the press and those who should represent and lead.

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