Portsmouth Planning Fails

Portsmouth Planning Fails

Developments in Portsmouth are policed by national planning regulations and local laws and guidelines, managed by the planning department at the council and overseen by a group of elected councillors known as the Planning Committee. That all sounds logical, organised and sensible doesn't it…

So why does the Planning Committee keep making decisions which are contrary to their own rules and as a result, then have those decisions overturned by the Planning Inspectorate? We reported this issue back in 2017 (more here) yet they have continued blindly trying to misapply their own rules. If the rules (Supplementary Planning Documents) are to stand up to appeals then decisions need to be evidence based, not based on the prejudices of residents and/or Councillors desire to be re-elected.

Last month, the Planning Committee were told of 5 more cases that had been appealed and in which their decisions had been overturned – they themselves complain about the cost of this to the taxpayer, we would argue their behaviour in trying to misuse the process in this way costs the taxpayer and the applicants in each case far more than they estimate when you take in the time spent by officers preparing for the original review, the appeal, etc.

The bad news is that the Planning Committee is now asking PRED (a different councillor group focussed on Regeneration and Economic Development) to rewrite some of the rules so they can force through some of the restrictions that they have consistently failed to be able to do over the past 5 years.

Worse than that though, is that all of these actions are increasing homelessness in the city. Read on for our explanation of why this is true which we sent to every member of the Planning Committee

Letter from the PDPLA to every member of the Portsmouth City Council Planning Committee sent on 18th February. 2019

"I was horrified to see quotes in The News suggesting that 'planning loopholes' are allowing the spread of HMO's and I fear that you do not realise that your demonisation of HMO's is increasing homelessness in this city.

https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/our-region/portsmouth/councillors-pledge-to-change-toothless-hmo-rules-1-8811735

We have an increasing number of young, unemployed single people living on the streets – many have problems additional to the shortage of housing – but all are restricted to the £65 per week housing benefit that has been in place and capped at that level for some time.

£65 per week will only pay for a small room in a shared house, yet your actions are reducing the number of shared houses and also, taking away the small rooms.

We have members who are changing 5 bed HMO's let at £70 per week to 4 bed 'en suite' HMO's let at £100 per week – they make more money, they focus on young professionals, teachers and nurses and thus have less tenant problems BUT they leave 5 more of the most vulnerable without housing each time they do it. Why are they doing it? Because of the increasing pressure from local councillors to reduce the number and size of HMOs in the city.

I used the term 'demonisation' above which you probably think is 'over the top' and I am sure you would argue that all you are doing is representing the people you talk to in the streets and on the doorstep. Have you ever considered that the divisive political leaflets that all parties put through doors in Southsea, but especially the LibDems, may be fuelling the debate? Or how about the letter sent to all residents of Manners Road this week by PCC's Private Sector Housing 'Community Engagement Officer' inviting residents to a focus group to 'work together to lower the impact that shared houses have on the community'. All of these small biases add up to the groundswell of anti-HMO rhetoric that you have created and continue to fuel.

Fortunately, the facts do not support your view:

  • In a typical month, over the past 5 years, the council has received 1, sometimes 2, complaints about HMO's
  • Given that there are believed to be 4,000 HMO's in the city, that is a VERY low complaint rate (compare it to that received from council houses if you want to check, yet you don't scream for less council houses!)
  • Within those complaints, there will be genuine tenant issues, neighbours complaining about rubbish, noise and parking. Not all will have been upheld or substantiated. Many will have been received regardless of the type of tenure. So, I challenge you to produce any evidence that HMO's warrant the amount of focus that they receive
  • We also have a student population of 20,000 living in a part of the city housing around 60,000 – our economy depends on them and many of our local businesses only survive because of them, but to have 20,000 living in a community of 60,000 means that 1 in 3 of the local community are going to be living in shared accommodation – yet our Local Plan, our Planning SPD's and all related policies fail to acknowledge the need and go out of their way to minimise any development of much needed shared accommodation
  • Who suffers? Those at the bottom of the ladder as it is the most vulnerable who lose out
  • Listening to this month's Planning Meeting, particularly the discussion after the deputation for 1 Darlington Road, “Mass overcrowding / Mattresses Left on The Street / Landlords That Don't Look After Their Properties / One toilet for 10 people and that was in just one sentence from Donna, just confirms that you are demonising HMO's. The PDPLA has seen no evidence of overcrowding in any HMO in the city in the past 10 years other than a few foreign taxi drivers sharing facilities which was stopped as soon as it was seen. Imagine the poor woman who came to object to 1 Darlington Rd, not only did the planning committee encourage her to fear the worst – you told her to expect overcrowding and mattresses on the street!
  • Mattresses left on the street is something PCC has the power to resolve already but it is not a planning issue, and EHO's have more than adequate powers to bring landlords who don't look after their properties to book. None of these are matters for the Planning Committee. The planning committee does have the power to prevent properties having 10 occupants per toilet – but please show me evidence of any form that this particular example EVER occurred in Portsmouth since the great cholera outbreak of 1848-9.

I am sure you don't accept the PDPLA's assertion that your policies are increasing homelessness, so let me elaborate:

Policy: Article 4 direction reducing new HMO's to no more than 10% in a specific area

Intent: To reduce the proliferation of HMO's

Actual Effect: Properties with a C4 categorisation now command a premium price as anyone wanting to buy one has to buy an existing HMO. This prices C4 properties out of the market for normal families. Also, those wishing to expand their HMO portfolio can only do so by enlarging their current properties, hence the flow of C4 to sui generis applications and with your communal space requirements (see below), this means cheap C4's become expensive sui generis HMO's

Policy: High Communal Space Requirements For HMO's (Portsmouth demand up to 34 sq. m for 6 occupants, whereas Brighton, Southampton, Bournemouth typically require 11.5 to 13.5 sq. m)

Intent: To make it more difficult to enlarge an HMO or create a new one

Actual Effect: Landlords are putting in en suites and ensuring new developments are 'top end' to justify the expense of meeting these rules, making them affordable only to professionals and reducing accommodation for the most needy

Policy: Reducing the number of rooms in HMO's by changing the way current guidelines are interpreted when new Mandatory Licensing applications are assessed

Intent: We assume to reduce the number of large HMO's in the city and reduce the workload on Private Sector Housing

Actual Effect: Each HMO landlord who accepts these new guidelines makes at least one person homeless and for those that don't, there is yet more cost for PCC (at least 6 are currently waiting for their appeals to be heard at the First Tier Tribunal)

So far, we only have evidence that this is affecting student HMOs but though the students pushed out by this action will find another house, down the line (or at the bottom of the ladder) there will be fewer rooms available. We all know that students cannot afford to live in halls for more than a year which is why there has been little impact on the HMO market since all the new halls were built.

There are other examples, but hopefully you can now appreciate the cumulative effect of these policies is to push people out of homes whilst comments made by local politicians are exacerbating concerns among local residents which are frequently unfounded and without evidence.

You rail against the injustice of the planning inspector allowing all of the appeals – but I think you will find he/she is just being objective. A 5-6 bedroom house becoming a 6-7 bedroom house will have little impact on the surrounding community, unfortunately I fear your judgement is clouded by local politics and Nimbyism.

I urge you as part of the new Homelessness Strategy that Cllr. Sanders is leading, to recognise the role of HMO's in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable, to accept that those most in need cannot afford the 'top end' HMO's that your policies are delivering and that the demonisation of HMO's is counter-productive and a more balanced appraisal in public meetings would help increase acceptance of a true 'mixed and balanced' community in Portsmouth.

Thank you for reading this far, we are happy to share evidence in support of these points and to work with any groups in the city that will improve conditions for everyone."

 

Signed by Martin Silman, Chair of the PDPLA for and on behalf of the membership of the PDPLA

Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.

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