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Council to take control over houses of multiple occupation

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The Labour party found itself pushing on an open door when it sought to persuade Maidstone council to make changes in the planning rules to protect Fant from the uncontrolled conversion of homes into houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs).

Under current Government legislation, the owner of a house can convert it to multiple bed-sit flats under "permitted development rights" without even having to apply for planning permission.

Cllr Paul Harper (Lab): His motion was passed
Cllr Paul Harper (Lab): His motion was passed

Labour leader Paul Harper said that the measure was causing problems in some areas, particularly in Fant, where there was very limited street parking.

He said: "We are not opposed to HMOs per se - sometimes they are quite acceptable. But there needs to be a democratic scrutiny of each conversion to make sure that they are right for the area where they are located."

He said that substituting six families for one in a house could add undue pressure on limited parking places, especially if several homes were converted to HMOs in the same road.

He said there was currently a location in Bower Place, where a developer had bought two neighbouring properties and was first using permitted development rights to expand into the roof space of the homes and to add a garden extension, with the ultimate aim of converting each to an HMO, potentially adding 12 households to the street.

Cllr Harper said: "It's not just the parking issue, neighbours in this case are also concerned about loss of privacy, with the proposed changes overlooking the homes."

Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem): It should cover the whole borough
Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem): It should cover the whole borough

He said: "The problem of HMOs is one that is being raised more and more frequently with us on the doorstep."

He said the council should introduce what is known as an "Article 4 direction" in the area, removing permitted development rights for HMOs in Fant.

But even prior to the council meeting on Wednesday to consider his motion, Conservative Councillor Jonathan Purle asked if Cllr Harper would amend the motion to include his own Bridge Ward, where there was a similar problem.

Then at the meeting, Lib Dem Cllr Clive English said there was also a need for such a rule in High Street Ward and parts of Tovil, and suggested in fact it should be applied across the borough.

The council voted unanimously to accept the motion in principle and the issue will now be passed to the Strategic Planning and Infrastructure Committee to work out the details.

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