Dozens of HMO expansion plans await a decision by Portsmouth City Council

A THIRD of Portsmouth City Council’s planning committee meetings will now be dedicated solely to applications to expand HMOs - with dozens now waiting for decisions.

By Josh Wright
Thursday, 26th May 2022, 5:05 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2022, 5:07 pm

More than 60 applications, submitted in the wake of an appeal decision last year that found changes from six to seven or eight bedrooms did not require planning permission, have been submitted in recent months.

The appeal was made by developer Campbell Properties against six enforcement notices issued by the city council challenging the change of use of HMOs from the C4 class, which allows a maximum of six people, to sui generis properties allowing more people to live there.

Planning inspector Paul Hocking said the addition of one or two people was not a ‘material’ change and as a result did not require planning permission.

North End in Portsmouth

At a six-hour meeting on Wednesday, the committee considered the first 11 applications, but disagreed with the judgement of both Mr Hocking and council planning officers by deciding they did require planning permission.

Committee member and cabinet member for economic development Steve Pitt said it was a ‘momentous’ decision and that the appeal ruling did not mean the council should overlook other concerns, including a lack of communal space or nitrates.

‘An inspector is only legally allowed to take into consideration in their deliberations matters that are material in planning terms,’ he said. ‘In applications that were before them on appeal there were two things given as the reason for refusing it: one was habitats, the other one was space standards.

‘The inspector has taken a view and therefore has recognised their materiality.’

He cited the examples of Southampton, Brighton and Hove and Winchester councils which still require planning permission for the expansion of HMOs.

‘There are some significant issues here and to say “oh, forget all that, Campbell Properties changes everything” - I don't believe it does,’ Cllr Pitt added. ‘We have legal precedent and yes, it should carry some weight, but to sweep aside a series of other decisions made by inspectors is, in my view, a disproportionate shift of the policy of this council, and I don't think we should make that decision today.’

The decisions made on each of the HMO expansions were:

123 Talbot Road - refuse planning permission

331 London Road - grant planning permission

48 Jessie Road - refuse planning permission

56 Jessie Road - refuse planning permission

34 Queens Road - grant planning permission

85 Margate Road - grant planning permission

4 Playfair Road - refuse planning permission

3 Playfair Road - refuse planning permission

14 Hudson Road - decision deferred and site visit arranged after every committee member abstained from the vote

3 Pains Road - refuse planning permission

22 Montgomerie Road - refuse planning permission

In most of the cases where planning permission was refused, councillors raised concerns about the amount of communal space.

A report published ahead of the meeting had recommended they did not require planning permission.

‘The changes in the character of activities are not sufficiently significant, as a matter of fact and degree, to be considered to result in a material change in the use of this dwelling,’ it said.

This position was defended by the council's assistant director of planning Ian Maguire.

‘That appeal decision [Campbell Properties] is a very important material consideration for the council and indeed for this type of application,’ he said. ‘The type of application referred to are applications where an applicant is seeking to change the use of an existing HMO, a seven-bed or eight-bed.

‘It was deemed by that inspector, reviewed by your own planners and your own legal services, and reviewed by outside counsel to not be a material change of use.’

Planning permission is only required in cases where physical development work needs to be carried out or when there is ‘a material change of use’ of a building.

Mr Maguire said more than 60 similar applications had been submitted to the council and that, due to a request from council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson that each is considered by the planning committee, the ‘significant burden’ meant every third meeting would now be dedicated solely to them.

In his objection to the London Road scheme, councillor Daniel Wemyss said the council needed to strengthen its policies.

‘PCC currently uses a local plan that is ten years out-of-date leading to many HMOs that should have been denied planning permission making their way past the committee out of fear of the Planning Inspectorate, combined with a weak Lib Dem administration who are happy to nod their heads and not enforce parts of their own policy,’ he said.

‘I am not against landlords who wish to own HMOs that are to a good standard and sized accordingly to the property, nor do I defend tenants who take advantage of reputable landlords.

‘I just want a balance, and until we have the right policies in place, committee members will sit for hours looking at HMOs.’

Under current rules, 1,226 are mandatorily licensed, but the proposed arrangement would extend this to cover smaller three- and four-bed HMOs.

The scheme was brought forward due to concerns about living conditions in many HMOs across the city with council research showing almost a third of those inspected had serious hazards.

But the chairman of the Portsmouth & District Private Landlords’ Association, who has opposed the licensing proposals, has encouraged landlords to either sell or enlarge smaller HMOs due to concerns a 'perfect storm' in the sector, including the licensing proposals, made them financially unviable.

‘The net impact of these points is that the most in need will have nowhere to live,’ Martin Silman said. ‘The number of small, nice homes for three or four nurses or dockyard contract workers will decrease and the number of mega HMOs will rise in response to the high demand and high prices that this will create.’

The 10-week consultation ends on July 31.