Houses in Multiple Occupation

The Minister for Housing and Local Government (The Rt Hon Grant Shapps): Today I am announcing the Government’s intention to amend the planning rules for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) which were introduced on 6 April 2010.
I understand the concerns of local people who see their neighbourhoods being damaged by undue concentrations of HMOs and the significant impact this is having on their quality of life. However there are also many areas where HMOs are not causing problems and indeed provide an important supply of low cost housing. I believe that the planning system needs to take account of both these differing circumstances and allow for local solutions rather than continue with the present ‘one size fits all’ approach.
The current rules impose a blanket requirement for planning permission in order to change use from a domestic house to a HMO. When introduced, it was estimated that these rules could result in an additional 8,500 planning applications per year and could lead to a reduction in supply. This goes against the recommendations in successive reports on the planning system that Government should reduce the number of planning applications for minor development. It also runs the risk of losing low cost housing in areas where it is needed most.
I believe that we need to move away from this kind of centralised, regulatory approach which has dominated planning in recent years and create a system which encourages local people to take responsibility for shaping their communities. Decisions should reflect local priorities expressed through the local plan, rather than nationally imposed rules.
I therefore intend to amend the HMO rules to allow changes of use between family houses and small, shared houses to take place freely without the need for planning applications. However, in those areas experiencing problems with uncontrolled HMO development, local authorities will be able to use their existing direction making powers to restrict this freedom of movement by requiring planning applications. This change will allow the free development of smaller shared housing, which is a vital component of our private rented sector, unless there is a serious threat to the area.
My officials will work through the detail of the proposed changes with interested partners to ensure that the new rules work for local people without placing an unnecessary burden on businesses.
My aim is to have the revised arrangements in place by 1 October 2010.