Lancaster benefits from being home to two university campuses – Lancaster University and the University of Cumbria, totalling more than 22,000 students within a city of approximately 52,000 residents. All of them need somewhere to live, and while many choose to stay in university-run halls or purpose-built student accommodation, many others prefer to join up with friends in a traditional house-share.
However, the number of student houses in parts of Lancaster has led to concern among residents who, while recognising the economic boost the universities bring, cite anti-social behaviour and a loss of neighbourhood spirit in areas where student ‘to let’ signs proliferate along many of the streets.
What is an HMO?
In planning terms, a student house is classed as a house in multiple occupation (HMO), defined as a house with three or more occupants who are not a household but share basic amenities. Converting a family home to a ‘small HMO’ (fewer than seven occupants) does not usually require planning permission, and can be carried out under what is known as ‘permitted development’. Until now, this has made it easy for landlords to increase the number of HMO’s in many university towns, Lancaster included.
Introduction of an Article 4 Direction
In response, the City Council has today announced that it will be taking action to limit student houses using an Article 4 Direction, which can remove certain permitted development rights. The Council is planning to introduce a city-wide Article 4 Direction to curb the conversion of family homes to HMOs. Such powers have already been introduced in many university towns across the country, including York, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.
This means that the Council will have control over all new student houses being created in Lancaster, as landlords will need to apply for planning permission before converting a house. It aims to reduce the concentration of student housing in hopes of creating a more balanced and sustainable community. The introduction of an Article 4 direction will give the Council powers to refuse new student housing conversions which will lead to a high concentration of HMOs within the immediate vicinity.
We can help
A public consultation on the new Article 4 direction has been announced today and will run for 6 weeks until 3 April 2020.
This change does not mean that gaining planning permission for a new HMO will be impossible, but a planning application will need to be submitted and it will also need to show that the conversion complies with the Council’s planning policy.
JWPC can help in assessing if your current or future student investments will require planning permission and are able to offer advice on how best to secure a planning consent for a new HMO.