Liverpool aims to stem rise of HMOs

Liverpool City Council has taken the first step in a bid to reduce the rising number of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) across the city.

The council’s Cabinet has today approved the launch of a public consultation on implementing a key planning change – called an Article 4 Direction – which means abolishing permitted development rights to convert a house into a 5-bedroom HMO.

Over the past decade, Liverpool has seen a significant growth in the number of HMOs – with its booming student population and current housing benefit rules fuelling a demand for single person households.

Fears have now been expressed that the volume of HMOs has reached “a tipping point”, which is threatening the housing offer in the city for families and causing parking, anti-social behaviour and waste collection issues in certain neighbourhoods.

Currently, larger HMOs – 6 bedrooms and above – must seek planning permission, meaning that the council has some ability to influence where and how larger HMOs are developed.

Following a two month consultation, scheduled to begin by late October, the council will then take a vote on whether to implement the same rules for smaller HMOs. If implemented the decision will have no impact on existing HMOs.

This is not the first time the council has adopted this change. In 2018, it implemented an Article 4 Direction in the Dales area of Greenbank Ward, in south Liverpool, and this broader city-wide step follows a commitment made in Liverpool’s Draft Local Plan to utilise Article 4 to control smaller HMO development elsewhere in the city.

The move to establish a public consultation also follows a review in 2019 which set out to establish the intensity of HMOs in all neighbourhoods and identify evidence of environmental harm caused by that intensity, as required by law.

The review was undertaken by independent planning consultancy firm ARUP, which studied a wide range of housing and criminal data and carried out a programme of interviews and local consultations.

Following this review they have recommended the city council looks at the option of introducing Article 4 across the inner core of the city, where some streets feature more than 50% of HMOs.

This approach would include the wards covering all of Anfield, Tuebrook and Stoneycroft, Kensington and Fairfield in the north, Central, Riverside and Princes Park – around the city centre – and Picton, Greenbank and Wavertree wards in the south. It also recommends implementation in small elements of Kirkdale and Church wards.

Arup’s recommendation also considers the issue of displacement, ensuring that developers cannot simply move a few yards down the road from an existing hot spot and renew the HMO development process.

ARUP have further recommended other interventions that will help control the spread and impact of HMOs in these neighbourhoods including the reintroduction of the landlord licensing scheme but also other measures such as resident only parking.

Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, said: “Liverpool needs to offer families of all different sizes and people with a whole host of needs a variety of good quality, affordable homes. If unchecked HMOs will reduce that offer which is why we need to reset the dial whilst developing more social housing across the city.

“Changing the planning rules by introducing Article 4 will not just protect the wellbeing of the people who live in these communities, it will also help protect the balance of our housing offer – which, in some areas, is close to a dangerous tipping point of being dominated by one bedroom bedsits.

“Of course Article 4 is not the whole answer to Liverpool’s housing problems. That is why we are revisiting the Landlord Licensing Scheme, to ensure good housing standards are maintained in the private rented sector and why the city council is embarking on a house building programme for the first time in 30 years.”

Maggy Read, Coordinator of the Dales Residents Group, welcomed the move.

Maggy said: “We campaigned hard to get this Article 4 restriction for our area. Although it hasn’t solved all the problems we have with those developers and landlords who have ruined family houses, most of whom pay no Council tax or business rates, it’s gone a long way towards making our very densely populated area much cleaner, safer and more pleasant to live in.

“We had great support from the council throughout our campaign, and it’s good to see that they want to extend the scheme to help many more areas in the city. We hope to get Landlord Licensing back as well: Landlord Licensing and Article 4 together make a huge difference to residents.”

• Liverpool City Council is currently carrying out a 12 week consultation on the reintroduction of a scaled down landlord licensing scheme, after the government halted a city wide approach at the start of the year. A submission for ministerial consideration is expected in December. Views are encouraged to be given online via https://liverpool.gov.uk/selectivelicensingconsultation

• At the same cabinet meeting, a report was also approved to green light the first major council house building scheme in 30 years in the Yew Tree ward in North Liverpool. Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has set out an ambitious programme to deliver thousands of new council owned homes in the next 10 years to rebalance the city’s rented and rent to buy sector.