Time’s up for unscrupulous HMO developers. In October 2018.

Greenwich have belatedly issued further details of their plans to regulate smaller Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) within the borough from September 2018, with a final decision due at Cabinet next Wednesday (September 13).

On the last day of Gordon Brown’s Government, legislation came into force which created a new Planning Use Class of C4 (House in Multiple Occupation). This required all landlords to gain planning permission for Change of Use before they could let former C3 (Family Houses) as C4 – housing for between three and six unrelated sharers.

In October 2010 the Coalition Government amended the legislation to include Change of Use from C3 to C4 within the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO), removing the need for planning permission. However, they also gave local authorities the option to reinstate the requirement for planning permission through the use of an “Article 4 Direction” and designate whole areas within the direction to limit the number of HMOs in that area.

Some London Councils were quick off the mark to enforce Article 4 directions on HMOs with Barking & Dagenham announcing theirs in May 2011, followed by Newham in July 2012, Enfield in October 2012 and Haringey in November 2012.

Neighbouring Bexley made a non-immediate Article 4 direction in September 2016 which comes into force this month. Almost immediately after the decision last year, builders and developers moved en masse over the Bexley border to buy and convert properties across Plumstead. Groups like Facebook’s Tackling Irresponsible Landlords in Woolwich & Plumstead began fighting the influx not long after.

List of HMO affected streets

List of HMO affected streets

One of the reasons for a delay of a year is due to the need to pay compensation if a planning application for an HMO is made within the first 12 months of an immediate Article 4 Direction. This can relate to incurred expenditure or other loss or damage directly attributable to the withdrawal of permitted development rights.

Of course, many of the developments should actually be subject to other planning conditions. Traditional two-up, two-down terraces are having dormer loft conversions alongside two-storey infill extensions to turn them into six bedsits, all out of sight of the street.

Other councils use Google Maps and regularly compare with their own Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to detect infringements. However, we know from recent events that planning and enforcement are barely functioning in RBG’s Planning Department. Will an Article 4 Direction enacted now or next year have any noticeable effect on planning applications themselves?

With legislation in place to deal with this issue for nearly seven years, and in force across much of London, Greenwich Council can’t claim they didn’t know about it. Shooters Hill Councillors Sarah Merrill and Chris Kirby have been campaigning for it and holding public meetings since April this year. I wonder what they think of the state of affairs in their ward colleague Danny Thorpe’s department?

If you feel strongly about the issue you should get along to the decision itself at Woolwich Town Hall for 1830 next Wednesday or Councillor Merrill’s meeting at 1830 on September 19th at Slade Community Centre to make your views known.

There’s also the ballot box next May. A group of local residents have an idea what should happen.

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