Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) Council’s Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of a new planning rule that limits concentrations of shared housing across the city of Bath. The Article 4 Direction means any new conversions of a standard house into a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) will require planning permission, only allowing new HMOs where less than 25% of houses in a 100m radius are also HMOs. Effective from the 1st July 2013, the Article 4 Direction’s intention is to prevent housing conversions in HMO-dense areas, such as Oldfield Park. The Cabinet also voted to institute an additional licensing scheme for HMOs with shared facilities in most of the Oldfield, Widcombe and Westmoreland wards.
Cllr Will Sandry (Liberal Democrat, Oldfield) stood on a manifesto of implementing an Article 4 Direction, responded to the Cabinet’s decision:
The community wants this to happen, they have had enough and believe it is the right thing to do. Landlords seem to be focussed on turning Oldfield Park into a high density multiple occupation housing areas, I welcome this Article 4.
Numerous residents and landlords attended the Cabinet meeting to express their concerns about the unintended effects of the Article 4 Direction. Lorne Road resident Johnny Kidney said: “We will be trapped in our houses seeing our savings decimate, and we could end up losing a quarter of the investment in our homes.” The National Landlord Association has also threatened legal action against the imposition of B&NES Council’s additional licensing scheme.
During the consultation, the varied complaints from residents largely focussed on the general state of HMOs in the city, rather than their numbers or geography, which are the only things the Article 4 Direction will control. It is also not retrospective, meaning that the Article 4 Direction cannot ameliorate any existing problems with HMOs. In the Cabinet meeting on the 14th March 2012, it was noted the original feasibility study “found that in relation to indicators of environmental degradation and social impacts (e.g. crime, noise, anti-social behaviour) there is not a strong link with student HMOs”.
Cllr Tim Ball (Liberal Democrat, Twerton), the Cabinet member for Homes and Planning, stated that the Article 4 Direction was a defence of ‘balanced communities’. The definition of a balanced community, according to the pressure group National HMO lobby, is one that “approximates national demographic norms”. However, very few wards in Bath are demographically similar to the whole B&NES authority, as people live in different types of housing during their lives, so the mix is wholly dependent on that area’s housing. Balanced communities are a statistical artefact, not an idyll.
There is no clear measure by which to judge an Article 4 Direction a success or a failure. These policies can persist without examination: San Franscisco’s rent control was imposed in 1979, and the first study was in 2001. Housing and planning rules are often passed and wrapped in ribbons of good intent, whilst local governments remain astutely uncurious as to the empirical effect of their policies.
Note: My submissions to the Article 4 Direction and HMO licensing consultations are found here:
PS (updated on 11:09, 13/06/2013): I’d really like to thank Hanna Wade and Naomi Mackrill, the last two Community Officers at the University of Bath Students’ Union, for their hard work and endeavour on this issue. I’d also like to thank the University of Bath Students’ Union as a whole. We tried, and I’m sorry.