Why Article 4 Directions are not always the answer

Why Article 4 Directions are not always the answer

9:22 AM, 22nd August 2022, About 2 years ago

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As a large property network, ensuring our franchise partners are able to navigate the ever-changing world of Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) and Article 4 Directions is key… and something our planning department discusses with them daily.

Mahsa Khaneghah is the Head of Planning and Sustainability at Platinum and has observed, through her years in planning, that Article 4 directions are being introduced more and more across England as a tool to control the number and quality of HMOs.

Is this effective? It’s a complex issue, but Mahsa believes that this blunt instrument approach has its limitations, and we could even start seeing a knock-on effect on the quality of HMOs in Article 4 areas.

“To give some background, it was in October 2010 when the PDR for the change of use from a C3 Class dwelling to a C4 House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) was introduced by the government in the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO).” explains Mahsa “This would allow for up to 6 unrelated households sharing basic amenities, without the need for planning permission, with the intention to reduce thousands of planning applications.”

Minister Grant Shapps was quoted at the time saying:

…. shared homes are vital for people who want to live and work in towns and cities and are important to the economy. Where there are local issues with shared homes, councils will have all the tools they need to deal with the problem – but they will avoid getting bogged down in pointless applications, and landlords won’t be put off renting shared homes where they are needed.”

“However,” Mahsa continued “with the ability to convert to HMOs without planning permission came concerns of over-concentrations, poor quality accommodation and loss of family housing in certain areas. So, in response, some Councils chose to regain control by removing the PDR. In the context of HMOs, an Article 4 Direction would mean that planning permission would be required for the change of use to any size HMO”.

“Whilst Article 4 Directions undoubtedly play a crucial role in the sensible planning and development of our urban areas,” says Mahsa “in my experience, I do not consider Article 4 Directions to always be the answer. There are many reasons, but among them are that:

  1. Planning permission controls the land use, with limited powers to manage the ongoing quality of the HMOs. Therefore, an Article 4 Direction will do little to address concerns relating to low standard HMOs, which is a Licensing and management matter. HMO licences must be renewed after 5 years and can’t be transferred to a new licence holder without a new application. Ensuring licensing standards are clear, accessible, and well enforced would be a more effective way of managing the quality of HMOs.
  2. The costs associated with a planning application (instructing an architect, planning consultant, submission fees, etc.), as well as the uncertainty of approval may dissuade landlords who take compliance seriously from creating HMOs at all. Thus, allowing substandard quality or unlawful HMOs to flourish, reducing the overall accommodation quality standards.
  3. A 6-person C4 HMO is materially comparable to a family dwelling, as inherently agreed by the introduction of the PDR. Further still, how we define ‘family’ is increasingly diverse in nature, size, and structure across households. As a standard example, a family with two parents and a baby/children/teenagers/ or even increasingly adult children due to the affordability crisis is likely to have similar patterns of comings and goings and noise as identified in previous appeal decisions. Therefore, the assumption that six housemates in a shared house will be harmful to communities is arguably prejudicial. What’s more, reverting a small HMO to a family house is often relatively straightforward, only requiring internal works.”

So, all this being said, is there a better way to tackle substandard HMOs? Mahsa believes so:

“It is my view that to tackle substandard HMOs successfully, it is essential to understand the limitations of an Article 4 direction as a planning tool, prioritising investment into the relevant enforcement powers to allow high-quality and compliant HMOs to thrive as an affordable and social housing option.”

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