|61 Regent St - application to turn offices into a HMO was turned down tonight|
Tonight's planning committee lasted three hours, partly because of two contentious applications for Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Wrexham town centre.
The two planning applications before the committee were:
45 Alexandra Road in the Offa ward. This is a three-bed terraced house that the owner wants to turn into a four-bedsit HMO.
61 Regent St in the Brynyffynnon ward. This is currently an office on the main road into Wrexham (opposite the Sorting Office) which the owner wants to turn into a HMO for five people.
Both local members, who are part of an informal grouping of town-centre councillors, argued passionately against the applications.
The argument against turning Regent St into a HMO was two-fold. Firstly it would disrupt an established row of offices, placing residential dwellings amid a business setting. In a fragile economic climate it was felt by many that this would not help local business confidence.
Secondly, and crucially, the available amenity space for five people's bins, washing and relaxation space outdoors was a pathetic 10.7m2. The point was made that HMOs often cause problems because tenants are boxed in with inadequate space and not treated like human beings. By contrast, anyone looking to build a new three-bedroom house would be expected to provide a 50m2 garden or amenity space. This was essentially expecting people to "relax" in a car park.
The vote against granting planning permission was unanimous.
Alexandra Road saw similar arguments being rolled out, but Offa ward has a crucial difference - 11% of its houses are already homes with multiple persons, a slightly different definition but an indication of the pressures facing the densely packed terraces in the area. Landlords have looked to cram as many bodies in as possible to maximise profit.
Cllr Alun Jenkins explained how 57 out of 300 homes in the Bersham Road area were already HMOs - about 20%. This is double the accepted threshold of the Welsh Government, but the council's lack of a clear policy on this makes decisive action difficult. At present the council opts for a 10% threshold within a 50m radius, which is random to say the least and often misses the 'feel' of a neighbourhood. There was also concern that many HMOs are not licensed - 'beneath the radar' or exempt from licensing because they're run by charities or Registered Social Landlords.
Opposition centred on a lack of parking - four bedsits could easily mean four cars outside a terraced house. The vote to reject was again convincing but there was a warning from chief planning officer Dave Williams that future appeals against such decisions could easily mean costs being awarded against the council.
HMO planning applications are now a monthly occurence here in Wrexham and it appears the rate is increasing.
This is partly because the Welsh Government insisted that any HMO with more than three people had to be licensed, whereas prior to 2016 it was six or more people. The Welsh Government also allowed local councils the power to develop their own policy towards HMOs - something Wrexham Council is still working towards. In the meantime, we continue to see Welsh Government Planning Inspectors overturning decisions made by local representatives. Something has to give.
But it's also to do with a lack of affordable housing, especially in the public sector. Councils must start building affordable homes so that people aren't forced to rent substandard bedsits at extortionate rates. This is part of Plaid Cymru's local manifesto to tackle the housing problem.
• Check out where licensed HMOs are located on the register.