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Shock as Bromley Councillors approve HMO planning restrictions against planning officer advice

Friday, November 12, 2021 - Bromley Council

Shock at Bromley Council planning decision 2021

Enquiries by London Property Licensing have uncovered new House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) planning restrictions in the London Borough of Bromley. Whilst the planning restrictions were introduced on 1 September 2021, no press release has yet been issued announcing the changes.

HMO Evidence Base presented to Councillors

On 20 May 2021, Bromley Council’s Development Control Committee received a report and HMO evidence base compiled by housing and planning officers. The reported noted there were 175 licensed HMOs in the borough – 108 licensed for 5 or 6 people and 67 licensed for 7 or more people.

The report found there was little evidence to suggest a concentration of HMOs had caused any adverse impacts. Whilst noting an intention by several HMO providers to purchase and convert family properties into HMOs, it concluded “there is no in-principle harm associated with HMOs, hence the intent to covert is not considered to be a strong material reason for introducing specific controls”. Officers noted any adverse impacts of HMO developments had been minimum “as shown by the limited number of formal investigations into supposedly problematic HMOs”.   

Having outlining the council’s power to implement immediate and non-immediate HMO Article 4 Directions to control new HMO developments, council officers explained “there is currently little justification for putting in place Article 4 Directions to remove the C3 to C4 PD right, either Borough-wide or in specific areas”. Officers also highlighted the positive impact HMOs can have in terms of addressing housing need.

According to the Minutes, councillors took a different view. They said that the Biggin Hill area had been “flooded with 20 HMOs within a very small area” which tipped the balance away from providing a mixed housing stock to meet the needs of local residents. Other concerns included a lack of public transport in the Biggin Hill area and concern about “the type of people moving in” and the adverse impact this might have on the local community.

Following a discussion, councillors departed from officer advice and recommended a non-immediate borough wide HMO Article 4 Direction and an immediate Article 4 Direction in the Biggin Hill and Darwin wards.

Consideration by Scrutiny Committee

On 16 June 2021, the same officer report together with feedback from the Development Control Committee was considered by the Renewal, Recreation and Housing Policy Development and Scrutiny Committee.

Ward councillors for Biggin Hill and Darwin spoke in support of an immediate Article 4 Direction for their wards. One councillor raised concerns about limited public transport and community facilities and said that in one small part of his ward there were already 13 HMOs with another 7 expected, mostly owned by a single company.

Council Officers said that an Article 4 Direction could only control the future development of HMOs by requiring planning permission. They explained that if an immediate Article 4 Direction was made, there was a risk that developers could claim compensation from the Council if planning permission was later refused.

Following discussion, councillors supported a recommendation that the Executive approve a non-immediate borough wide HMO Article 4 Direction and an immediate Article 4 Direction in the Biggin Hill and Darwin wards.

Proposals planning restrictions presented to Executive

On 30 June 2021, the same officer report together with feedback from the Development Control and Scrutiny Committees was considered by the Executive.

Whilst the Executive wanted to proceed with new planning restrictions, council officers highlighted the need for more a robust evidence before making a decision. As a result, a decision was postponed until the next meeting whilst officers re-examined the evidence base.

The report was presented back to the Executive on 15 July 2021. Council officers explained 2021 Census data would not be available for another 12 – 18 months and no further evidence could be found.    

According to the Minutes, the Portfolio Holder for Environment and Community Services raised concerns about HMO waste collection facilities and the risk of more cars in areas with poor public transport. 

Following discussion, councillors decided to implement a non-immediate borough wide HMO Article 4 Direction and an immediate Article 4 Direction in Biggin Hill and Darwin wards.

Bromley Article 4 Directions made

On 1 September 2021, Bromley Council made an immediate HMO Article 4 Direction covering the Biggin Hill and Darwin wards. Within these two wards, permitted development rights to convert a single family property into a small HMO with 3 to 6 occupants have been removed. By making an immediate Direction, the council may have to pay compensation to developments prejudiced by the decision.

The same day, Bromley Council made a non-immediate HMO Article 4 Direction covering the whole borough except for the Biggin Hill and Darwin wards. This Direction will come into force on 1 September 2022.

Consultation has already ended

Despite limited awareness of these new HMO planning restrictions, London Property Licensing understands that a public consultation on both Directions has already ended. Representations for and against the two Directions had to be submitted to the council by 14 October 2021. Bromley Council will now decide whether to make these changes permanent. 

Bromley Council has been contacted and invited to comment, but no response was received by the time of publication.

Our free guide to HMO Article 4 Directions is available here.

Our free guide containing more information about property licensing and HMO planning rules in the London Borough of Bromley, including copies of the HMO Article 4 Directions, is available here.

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