Tower Hamlets Council using planning powers to restrict new HMO developments

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 -

London Property Licensing has discovered proposals for new HMO planning restrictions in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

On 24 July 2019, Tower Hamlets Council made a non-immediate HMO Article 4 Direction that applies borough wide and is due to come into force on 1 January 2021.

This planning proposal will be a particular concern for landlords and agents providing shared accommodation to students and to young professionals working in the City of London and Canary Wharf.

The proposal would mean all houses and flats are restricted to occupation by a single family or two sharers unless planning permission is obtained for change of use. It could also reduce demand for flats in new build developments if they can onto be occupied by single families.

Under existing planning rules, landlords can convert a family home into a small HMO with up to six occupants without needing planning permission. All HMOs with seven or more occupants need planning permission for change of use.

The proposed planning policy change – called an HMO Article 4 Direction – removes these permitted development rights, meaning all new HMOs in the designated area would require planning consent.

This can reduce flexibility in the housing market by creating additional barriers that prevent landlords swapping between single family lets and shared accommodation according to the needs of the market. Once an HMO Article 4 Direction is in force, letting shared accommodation to three or more people will need planning permission if there is a material use of use.

The change is not retrospective and will not impact on HMOs occupied by up to 6 people before the Article 4 Direction comes into force, provided the landlord retains continuous HMO use.

Consultation underway for just six weeks

For such a significant change in planning policy, the council is consulting with all interested parties for just 6 weeks from 15 August to 26 September 2019.

Information about the consultation has also been difficult to find. Due to a technical oversight, the council told London Property Licensing the consultation was not listed on their consultation portal until yesterday – just 10 days before the consultation ends.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said:

We acknowledge the concerns raised about the extent of publicity relating to our proposed Article 4 changes, however the consultation currently underway exceeds the relevant statutory requirements and is in line with similar previous exercises.

We have placed a notice in the local newspaper, deployed site notices in a number of locations across Tower Hamlets and listed the details on the council’s website. There are still ten days left to take part and we would encourage anyone with a view on our proposed changes to take this opportunity to have their say.

John Stewart, Policy Manager at the RLA commented:

Given the council is seeking to withdraw development rights across the whole borough, it is extremely disappointing that they have chosen to meet the minimal publication requirements and notice period. It’s not acceptable to try and sneak through changes that will limit the availability of the most affordable private rented housing at a time of growing demand.

Information about the HMO Article 4 Direction consultation is available on the council’s website. Details about how to submit comments by email or post can be found in the Public Notice or at the bottom of the council webpage.

London Property Licensing is encouraging the council to extend the consultation deadline to ensure all interested parties have the opportunity to comment.

A free guide containing more detailed information about property licensing in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets is available here.

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