Wrexham's Executive Board has approved new planning guidance relating to Houses in Multiple Occupation. HMOs have become a hugely contentious issue in many parts of Wrexham town centre and that prompted six town-centre councillors to come together with the aim of strengthening planning guidance.
The new planning guidance will limit HMOs to 10% in any single locality, which will enable the planning committee to consider community needs in assessing planning permissions. Some streets and neighbourhoods already have densities far higher than this.
Councillor Marc Jones, who represents the Grosvenor ward and spoke on behalf of the cross-party group at the meeting, said:
"We want to ensure a mix of housing - owner occupier, private rented, council housing and HMOs. The situation in some neighbourhoods and streets is that HMOs are dominating and that can add to problems in terms of transient populations, overcrowding, parking issues, litter, poor amenity space and, in a minority of situations, anti-social behaviour.
"As councillors representing those areas most affected by HMOs, we have pushed officers to strengthen guidelines. We haven't achieved what we hoped for with this guidance but it is a step in the right direction. We will review and monitor the effectiveness of the new guidance to see whether it does have the intended effect."
The group of six councillors recently met Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths to stress the importance of Welsh Government support for new guidance and for the Planning Inspectorate, nominally under Welsh Government control, to allow local councils to make decisions affecting local communities.
Cllr Jones added:
"What we've seen in too many cases is that the local planning committee makes a decision, the landlord appeals to the Planning Inspectorate appeals and that is upheld. That's not local democracy at work and it undermines the whole point of having a planning committee. We need to make sure the message will get through to Cardiff that our communities are a very fragile balance and the wrong decisions can have a huge impact on streets and neighbourhoods.
"HMOs have increased in recent years because many people don't have any other housing options and that's an indictment of how affordable homes aren't being built. Councils such as Wrexham haven't built a home for rent for a generation, although that will change later this year as the council starts to build again. These will start to replace the 10,000 council houses sold off since 1980 in Wrexham alone. Affordable homes shouldn't mean inferior accommodation."