Plans to control conversion of city homes to flats welcomed

COUNCILLORS have welcomed plans to control the conversion of homes into flats in parts of Leeds that are already heavily populated by students.

The council has backed a new local planning law, which is due to come into force in February, that will require landlords to apply for planning permission if they want to convert houses into multiple-occupancy residences.,

The decision by Leeds Council to pursue the policy – known as an Article 4 Direction – came in response to the Government relaxing planning legislation in October last year. The change meant landlords who wished to convert their properties to accommodate three to six occupants would no longer require planning permission.

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However, Leeds councillors were concerned about the impact this would have, particularly on areas with already high concentrations of homes in multiple occupation (HMOs) such as Headingley.

The councillors said they were concerned about the impact on the housing mix in areas where families have been complaining about the effect of too many students.

Councillors believe that – from next February – they will be able to safeguard the wider community interests when they make planning decisions about applications for bedsits or similar property conversions.

Labour Councillor Neil Walshaw, who represents Headingley, welcomed the change, saying: “I am really pleased that the council has taken action to control the levels of shared housing in Leeds.

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“While HMOs do unquestionably serve an important function across the city, too high a concentration of them in one particular area can create social problems.

He added: “The Article 4 Direction reverses the reckless Government decision to remove vital planning controls that allow local authorities to regulate the numbers of HMOs and take account of their overall impact on the wider community.”

Labour Councillor Asghar Khan, who represents Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, said: “The important thing for landlords to take note of is that this ruling is not a blanket ban on HMOs.

“Landlords previously needed planning permission to convert properties into HMOs and this action by the council will ensure that they still will.

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“What this decision will do is ensure that HMOs are regulated both in areas where there are already high concentrations of them, and also in areas where there are fewer in number but where they are out of character with a particular community.”

The planning direction is proposed to cover parts, or the whole, of several council wards including Adel and Wharfedale, Armley, Beeston and Holbeck, Bramley and Stanningley, Burmantofts and Richmond Hill, Chapel Allerton, City and Hunslet, Gipton and Harehills, Headingley, Hyde Park and Woodhouse, Horsforth, Kirkstall, Moortown, Roundhay and Weetwood.

Several landlords opposed the directive.

But a council report emphasised that the amended rule will not lead to a blanket ban on homes containing several flats and bedsits.

The report said: “Many objectors were concerned that this action will result in a blanket ban on HMOs and that the local authority, by introducing this measure, is against this type of housing.

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“With the continued difficulties facing first time buyers and those on modest incomes in purchasing property the importance of accommodating HMO properties with the Leeds area is growing.

“Leeds City Council understands the continuing need for HMOs with the overall housing stock and that demand will increase in the future. The Article 4 Direction is not a blanket ban throughout Leeds, rather it is an aid to assist in managing the level of concentration of HMOs within areas based on policy; the new measures will be used to help ensure sustainable, mixed communities throughout Leeds.”