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 itâ€¦
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 â€“ 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.
We have an increasing number of young, unemployed single people living on the streets â€“ many have problems additional to the shortage of housing â€“ but all are restricted to the Â£65 per week housing benefit that has been in place and capped at that level for some time.
Â£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 Â£70 per week to 4 bed 'en suite' HMO's let at Â£100 per week â€“ 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:
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 â€“ 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.