CALL TO ACTION: SIGN THE PETITION

On the 8th November, the Cabinet in B&NES Council voted unanimously to restrict student housing in Bath. The SU has created a petition and we need you to sign. If enough signitures are gained, this will trigger a full council debate. 

SIGN HERE

Council plans to restrict student housing in Bath

The Bath and North East Somerset Council has conducted a review on Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO’s), in which the majority of students reside, and has voted to restrict the location of new HMO's in Bath. This will further limit the housing availability and choice to students, who are already struggling to find housing in the private sector. It is important that Bath students read the following information to help yourselves understand the current situation and to know what you can do to get involved to help campaign against this new HMO criteria.

What is an HMO?

A House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) is a type of property which is rented out by at least 3 people who are not from the same ‘household’ (e.g. a family). Like many cities around the country, many students in Bath live in HMOs, in fact, if you privately rent a property with other students in Bath, you are almost definitely living in an HMO. However, it is not just students that live in HMOs, young people working in Bath are also frequent inhabitants.

What is the current policy?

Currently, for a property owner to convert their property into an HMO, their application must pass two stages.

The development of a property into an HMO will not be permitted where:

  • The application property is within or less than 50 metres from a Census Output Area in which HMO properties represent more than 25% of households.
  • HMO properties represent more than 25% of households within a 100-metre radius of the application property.

In summary, in areas where HMOs represent 25%+ of dwellings, planning permission will not be granted to convert a property into another HMO.

What are the proposed changes?

The council are planning to introduce a new sandwich policy, as well as lower the above-mentioned threshold of 25% down to 10%.

So, if these policy proposals were adopted, applications for the change of use to an HMO will not be permitted where...

  • ...it would result in any residential property being ‘sandwiched’ between two HMOs;
  • ...the application property is within or less than 50 metres from a Census Output Area in which HMO properties represent more than 10% of Households;
  • ...HMO properties represent more than 10% of households within a 100-metre radius of the application property.

Overall, if passed, the new policy would mean that in areas where HMOs represent 10%+ of dwellings, planning permission will not be granted to convert a property into another HMO. Which you can imagine is a much larger area than the restriction at 25%.

Read more about the planning changes, as well as see the area of Bath that no new HMO's will be created. 

What your SU has been doing on this issue

On Wednesday 19 June, SU Community Officer Ben Palmer gave a speech at the Bath and North East Somerset Council Cabinet meeting on their plans to further restrict the development and creation of student housing in Bath. 

In his speech, Ben called these plans “extreme and nonsensical” and highlighted how this will “penalise” students due to the University’s own growth targets. It will lead to “students without accommodation, drop outs and [cause] other welfare concerns for students, such as isolation and increasing stress”. 

A breakdown of what Ben spoke about, and links to the speech transcrip and video, is available to read.

Ben has also had an article published in the Bath Chronical, where he called the proposal "short sighted"

"If such criteria were to be enacted it would be short-sighted and an attack on the young people and workers of Bath"

Read it in its entirity here. 

His letter also illicited a response from Councillor Bob Goodman. 

Why will this effect students and young people in Bath?

This new policy will be extremely damaging to the housing situation for students and young people of Bath. If you are unaware, the housing situation in Bath is far from desirable. There are fewer HMO rooms than there are students, so there is already high competition for houses in the private sector. So much so, that some landlords and letting agents can afford to offer sub-standard service because there is so much demand.

For example, The SU has previously collected stories about students being forced into bidding wars to get the house they want, as well as instances where individuals have been rushed into signing contracts. This is also evidenced by expensive rent prices and the poor condition of some properties- private renters don’t have much of a choice! This leads to some people calling Bath a landlord’s dream.

This policy will just exacerbate these issues. With shrinking supply, the HMO market climate will be sure to get stormier. More demand for a limited number of HMOs will be sure to perpetuate bad landlords and letting agent practice. If this new policy is enacted it will limit further Bath’s capacity for students when it is already difficult to find an appropriate house in Bath.

These new criteria would also:

  • Push students further afield and would most likely increase the number of students that would have to commute from local areas such as Trowbridge, Bristol and Chippenham.
  • Perhaps cause HMOs to appear in other areas of Bath. These new locations may be more expensive or hold poorer transport links to the city or campus.

I am concerned about the repercussions these impacts will have on student welfare. In particular, the isolation from the student community, the longer commutes and amplified stress when dealing with contracts & letting agents. If you have experienced these issues already, you will know exactly what I mean.

There are several other reasons why I believe these criteria are an attack on the young people and students of Bath:

  • They strengthen the market of expensive Purpose Built Student Accommodation.
  • There is limited space on our campus for more accommodation, building more here is not an option to deal with this.
  • This will not stop the University’s recruitment- due to Higher Education being marketised, the Universities will continue to pour increasing numbers of students into Bath without regard to its capacity.
  • HMOs are a vital and affordable option for workers in Bath- a lot of jobs in city don’t pay enough for people to afford renting a property of their own or pay a mortgage. HMOs are needed. Especially as the housing benefit for single people under 35 is only £72 a week.

Reasons for this proposal?

Councillor Bob Goodman, the B&NES Cabinet Member for Development said:

“These proposals are responding to the concerns raised by residents about the concentration and continued growth of HMOs in parts of Bath. If adopted, these proposals would allow the Council to better manage the growth of HMOs and ensure we have a balanced mix of housing types across the city. HMOs of course have an important role to play in our housing stock by providing affordable living accommodation for professionals as well as students, but we need to ensure there is a balance of housing types within communities across the city. Our proposals are designed to meet the city’s needs while addressing the concerns that have been raised about concentrations of HMOs.”

There is a demand for more affordable housing in Bath, some believe the way forward is to limit HMOs (although they are affordable alternatives) to decrease the amount of people buying to let properties and therefore lowering house prices. However, I do think a lot of the reason for this policy’s popularity it is to do with the disdain for students from some permenant residents who may have negative perception of students.

Additionally, it is also thought that the new policy would help disperse HMOs across the city and cease the ‘studentification’ of areas like Oldfield Park. We could well see an increase of HMOs in different parts of the city but whether they will be affordable or have adequate transport links is another question. In addition, those HMO’s within areas such as Oldfield and West Moreland will likely see a rise in the cost of rent, resulting in Bath becoming an even more unaffordable city to live.

Read the joint consultation response by the SU and University

Question 1: Do you agree with the general approach of the SPD to manage the concentration of HMOs in parts in Bath?

The SU Bath disagrees with the general approach of the SPD.

Firstly, the introduction of Article 4 has lead HMOs to appear in areas such as Twerton, and these simply are not as accessible to students. As HMOs are appearing more widely across the city, and will continue to do so, The SU is concerned about the implication on Bath’s transport links; we would like to know if there is an accompanying strategy for improving transport links following the implementation of this policy.

Secondly, making the concentration threshold lower will not solve residents’ issues with HMO dwellings. This approach seems like an attempt to appease permanent residents’ grievances with students but these grievances will not be resolved by changing a threshold. HMOs and student houses will still exist in current numbers in places like Oldfield Park and although this approach may cease additional HMOs being created, it does not deal with the essence of the issue. Moreover, The SU acknowledges that some HMO properties occasionally display anti-social behaviour but the way to deal with this is to put more onus on landlords, as well as working with The Student Community Partnership to work on problems constructively, instead of this knee-jerk policy. Furthermore, issues with some properties are unfairly blamed on students when in many cases there is little evidence to suggest it is the existence of students which causes these issues. For example, the lack of council tax in areas with high concentrations of HMOs may also be a contributing factor- perhaps landlords need to be charged business rates to help maintain civil standards.

Question 2: Do you agree with the Sandwich Policy proposed in the draft SPD?

The SU Bath disagrees with the Sandwich policy in the draft SPD. It is an additional method to reduce ‘studentification’. Although The SU does recognise the potential issues of living between two HMOs, we are unable to support the idea and therefore maintain that the policy would seriously detriment students and young people wanting to live in Bath. The sandwich policy would be a further method to prevent HMOs being built on top of the an already extreme threshold proposal. It does not seem fair to implement a threshold concentration and then create an exception to that rule simultaneously; exceptions should be included retrospectively. See The SU’s response to question three for a more developed answer; The SU feels the sandwich policy has the same effect as reducing the threshold and both together would be seriously troublesome for students

Question 3: Do you agree with lowering the HMO threshold to 10% from 25%?

The SU Bath strongly believes that the threshold should be maintained at 25%. Lowering the threshold only serves to reduce the amount of affordable accommodation available to students in Bath. If this 10% threshold is enacted, it will limit further Bath’s capacity for students further while it is already difficult to find a house in Bath. This new threshold would also:

  • Push students further afield and would most likely increase the number of students that would have to commute from local areas such as Trowbridge, Bristol and Chippenham.
  • Cause HMOs to appear in other areas of Bath. These new locations may be more expensive or hold poorer transport links to the city or campus.

The SU is concerned about the repercussions these two impacts will have on student welfare - in particular, the isolation from the student community, the longer commutes and the amplified stress when dealing with contracts and letting agents.

There are several other reasons why these criteria can be considered an attack on the young people and students of Bath considering that:

  • The criteria could strengthen the market of expensive Purpose Built Student Accommodation.
  • There is limited space on University of Bath’s campus for more accommodation; building more here is not an option to counteract this threshold.
  • A change to 10% will not stop University recruitment; due to Higher Education being marketised, both Universities will continue to increase numbers of students into Bath despite its capacity.

Furthermore, there are clearly fewer HMO rooms than there are students in Bath currently, thus there is already high competition for houses in the private sector. So much so, that some landlords and letting agents can afford to offer sub-standard service because there is so much demand. For example, The SU receives frequent complaints from students about housing conditions. The SU has previously collected multiple stories about students being forced into bidding wars to get the house they want, as well as instances where individuals have been rushed into signing contracts. This level of demand is also evidenced by expensive rent prices and the poor condition of some properties: private renters don’t have much of a choice in Bath. A threshold change will just exacerbate these issues. An increased demand for a limited number of HMOs will be sure to perpetuate bad landlords and poor letting agent practice. This is of serious concern for The SU as students’ welfare is at stake here. More onus needs to be put on landlords regardless whether this policy passes or not.

Additionally, it is commonly known that students make up approximately 25% of Bath’s population, therefore, it is non-sensical to cap HMOs at 25, let alone 10%. Especially as it is not just students who live in HMOs. Many young professionals, workers and other people who need to live outside of a family home are all inhabitants of HMOs; all of whom are of great importance to the economy in Bath. HMOs are a vital and affordable option for workers in Bath; many jobs in the city do not pay enough for people to afford to rent a property of their own, let alone pay a mortgage. HMOs are crucial, especially as the housing benefit for single people under 35 is only £72 a week.

Question 4: Any other comments?

Considering the vast contributions students and the universities bring to Bath, it is difficult to see such disdain for students.

In terms of the economy, The University of Bath alone contributes around £300 million to Bath & North East Somerset each year, which is 6.3% of the region’s total economic output. Individually, each additional student adds another £9,500 of economic benefit to the area. Not to mention the amount of jobs the universities bring to Bath; The University of Bath is the second biggest employer in B&NES after the Royal United Hospital; providing around 5,850 jobs.

Students individually also contribute widely to the area. Last year The SU Bath’s Raise And Give (RAG) group raised approximately £125,000 for local charities. Additionally, The SU’s V TEAM contributed around 6,500 hours of volunteering in the local area on various projects. This is in addition to our many other student groups and facilities that the people of Bath benefit from.