Liberal Democrat Councillors in Bangor are working hard to ensure that HMOs in the area are properly managed and allow sufficient room for families, couples, the elderly, and workers to live in the Bangor community, as the number of family homes continue to decline in areas such as Upper Bangor.
When Bangor City Council set the council tax precept for 2013/14 it was noted that there were considerably fewer number of council-tax paying properties in Bangor year on year, an issue of concern for many as council services are stretched further and demand increases – particularly where the decline in council-tax paying properties is due to the increase in HMOs.
As part of the current consultation Bangor Liberal Democrats submitted a response to the consultation on the matter of the proliferation and management of HMOs in Bangor. Bangor Lib Dems believe that the current policy does not go far enough to protect the traditional community of Bangor, whilst also ensuring that standards of HMOs are maintained. Gwynedd’s current policy reads as follows;
“The accumulative effect or over provision of this type of accommodation (HMOs) can affect the social character of an area and lower its environmental quality. This situation can further worsen as families move out in order to seek a better living environment.”
Arfon Liberal Democrats support Bangor Councillors’ commitment to ensuring that whist there is adequate provision for students, we must safeguard the needs of the community that remain in Bangor for 365 days a year in supporting our local businesses, economy, schools, and also provide a vibrant community.
There is also ongoing work with various Officers in Gwynedd Council on tackling the result of the proliferation of HMOs including waste, noise pollution, and a rapidly reducing number of dwelling homes in areas such as Upper Bangor and Garth.
Below is the consultation submission made by Bangor Liberal Democrat Councillors;
Anglesey and Gwynedd Joint Local Development Plan.
Submission on Houses in Multiple Occupation
Councillor June Marshall,
Menai Ward, Bangor.
- 1. Background
1.1 The City of Bangor is very proud to be the home of Bangor University and we are very conscious of the many benefits which have accrued to the City due to its presence. The University has contributed immeasurably to Bangor’s economy, culture and amenities. We welcome the students who come from all over the world to live and study in this beautiful part of Wales. They bring vibrancy to the city and give us the opportunity to learn more about other lives, languages and beliefs. But there is also a potential downside to the influx of large numbers of students. Over the last forty years the University has grown from 3000 students to c.12000. This nearly doubles the population of Bangor in term time and has led to a massive provision of student accommodation, primarily by turning family houses into student Houses of Multiple Occupation.
1.2 It is not easy to give an exact number of HMOs in Gwynedd. Many do not have planning permission and not all are licensed. But the impact is clear. There are whole streets and roads in Bangor with just one or two family houses and some streets have no family houses at all. Unless there is a change of approach to prevent more dwelling houses from being converted into HMOs, the situation will deteriorate still further.
1.3 The problems caused by the present situation are immense:
- Increase in noise and disorder
- Increase in rubbish
- Lack of maintenance
- Loss of affordable houses for residents
- Families are driven out of student areas, leading to further HMOs and an unbalanced population.
- Loss of revenue for both Gwynedd and Bangor City Councils
- A large floating population which does not engage with the local community
- 2. Is there a need to provide more Houses of Multiple Occupation in Bangor?
2.1 The main need for HMOs in Bangor is to accommodate students. The need undoubtedly increased over the past 40 years but there is compelling evidence that the need is now fully met and will not increase in the near future. In fact it is likely that student numbers will decline:
Evidence on Student numbers:
- The latest figures available (2012-13) show that the number of students attending Bangor University fell by 200.
- This is in line with national trends, which show that most Universities are showing a decline in admissions.
- This trend is unlikely to improve while University fees of £9,000 per annum continue to be charged.
2.2 At the same time, the supply of purpose built students accommodation has increased:
- Neuadd Willis I and Neuadd Willis II on Bangor High Street now provide high quality purpose built student accommodation for a considerable number of students.
- Student accommodation has also been built on the site of the former N and F shop on Bangor High Street.
- Planning permission has been granted for 30 student rooms at Plas Llwyd, behind the High Street.
- The University intends providing 600 rooms on the St Mary’s site and 120 at Neuadd Garth.
- There is planning permission for student accommodation on the corner of Dean Street.
- The former Jewson’s Yard remains undeveloped. While the previous planning application for student accommodation was refused on appeal, it is probable that the developers will revise their plans and produce an acceptable scheme.
2.3 There are signs of over-provision of Houses of Multiple Occupation.
- Student houses remain without tenants for 2013-14, even at this very late stage in the academic year. (Evidence: an unprecedented number of advertising signs still showing rooms to let, numerous newspaper adverts still offering student houses to let.)
- Some student houses remained empty during the last academic year.
3 Gwynedd Council Policy
3.1 Policy CH14 refers to Houses in Multiple Occupation in the Gwynedd Unitary Development Plan.
“Policy CH14 – conversion of dwellings into flats, bed-sits or multiple occupancy dwellings.
Proposals to change the use of dwellings or other residential buildings into flats, bed-sits or multiple occupancy units will be approved provided they conform to the following criterion:
the development will not result in the overprovision of this type of accommodation in a specific street or area where the accumulative effect has, or is likely to have, a negative impact on the social or environmental character of the street or area.”
3.2. Unfortunately this policy has not been sufficiently strong to prevent many more family houses being turned into HMOs. It is extremely difficult to prove that one house becoming an HMO will result in overprovision of HMOs or will be likely to have an adverse impact on a street or area, when there are already a number of HMOs in place. Consequently, the number of family houses has been, and continues to be, chipped away. The only hope of preventing the situation from deteriorating further is to have a very strict policy which would not permit any change of use to an HMO once the percentage of HMOs in a street exceeded a fixed amount. This would have to be agreed, but should be – I would propose – a meaningful figure such as 10%. Furthermore, it should only be possible to convert a building, of any sort, into an HMO if the applicant could show that no harm would ensue.
3.3.The work of Planning Officers and Planning Committees in Wales in controlling the proliferation of HMOs would be much helped if the Welsh Assembly Government were to introduce a similar planning regulation as exists in England whereby HMOs are placed in a separate class use (C4).
3.4.Of course, it is essential that any policy on HMOs has to be enforceable. The current situation allows landlords to by-pass the planning system very easily, by claiming for example, that all the tenants share a rent book and live as a family. The system needs to be tightened up, provided this can be done within current legislation.
- What are the risks if no change is made to Gwynedd’s policy?
- Further proliferation of HMOs.
- Further loss of family houses.
- Further adverse impact on the residents and environment of Bangor.
- Empty properties leading to vandalism and disrepair.
- Investment landlords will seek alternative tenants for their HMOs, with the very real danger of leading to further problems as has happened in Rhyl.