Following almost four years of work by a cross party group of councillors, Bristol Council yesterday (Tuesday November 3) approved a new housing planning policy which will allow the Council to support mixed and balanced communities by restricting the proportion of shared houses in areas of the city.
The new policy was arrived at after years of work by Green Party Councillor Clive Stevens and a group of councillors from other parties, including Lib Dem Councillor Anthony Negus, Conservative Councillor Mark Weston and Labour Councillors Paul Smith and Nicola Beech.
The news was welcomed by Action for Balanced Communities (ABC), an initiative formed in 2015 by residents groups across Bristol to respond to the impact of rapid university expansion on their communities. ABC worked closely with Councillor Stevens and other Councillors to demonstrate flaws with existing planning rules and helped them develop the details of the new policy. ABC’s chair said the policy was “a real step forward for communities throughout the city”.
The policy will restrict the proportion of shared houses (also known as ‘Houses of Multiple Occupation’ or HMOs) in parts of Bristol, setting a threshold of 10%. If approved, new HMO developments in areas of Cotham, Clifton Down and other HMO hotspots would be refused permission except in exceptional circumstances. The policy was proposed in response to a rapid expansion of HMOs in recent years to meet growing student numbers, which has restricted the supply of other types of homes and sometimes caused friction between long-term residents and students in parts of the city.
The new policy also sets higher quality guidelines for HMOs in an attempt to improve housing conditions, setting higher standards for room sizes, sound insulation and bin and bike storage.
Councillor Stevens said:
“Way back in January 2017 I spoke at a Council meeting about how the unmanaged growth of Bristol’s universities (especially University of Bristol) was affecting our city’s housing market and thus the high rent and poor quality of accommodation suffered by students and others. Not enough halls of residence means too many conversions of homes into HMOs, making it harder for everyone else to find accommodation. And in parts of Bristol an over-concentration of HMOs has also created conflict between long-term residents and students and led to complaints over noise and waste.
“Since 2017 I’ve been working cross-party with Labour, Tory and Lib Dem councillors to find a solution, and the result is the Council’s new HMO policy. This should set higher quality standards for HMOs and prevent new ones from being developed in areas where they already make up 10% or more of properties. I’m really glad this was approved at cabinet today – I think it will lead to a more balanced housing mix in Bristol that works for local residents, students and others.”
Caroline Dix, chair of ABC Bristol said:
“The HMO SPD is the culmination of 5 years hard work by the residents’ associations represented by ABC and is a real step forward for communities throughout the city – it will make a difference to so many residents in the long term. With protection from an unchecked spread of HMOs and limitations on numbers in any area, more homes will be available for families and couples and the negative impacts on communities of having high density clusters of HMOs will be reduced.
“Although this doesn’t stop the harm in areas of the city that are already oversaturated with HMOs, it has firmly put the brakes on the situation getting any worse. We’d like to thank the BCC Councillors and Officers for their support and the work they have done with us on bringing the HMO SPD into being, ABC Bristol’s work on how we can influence planning and licensing decisions to improve or maintain communities will continue.”