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Campbell Road, Maidstone is latest to see plans for an HMO as planning policy vacuum continues

A town that has already experienced a raft of family homes being converted into Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) is now facing two further applications.

Qualis Properties Kent Ltd is seeking permission to extend an Edwardian terraced home at 43, Campbell Road, Maidstone, to enable its conversion into a six-bed HMO.

Campbell Road, Maidstone is latest to see plans for an HMO
Campbell Road, Maidstone is latest to see plans for an HMO

Meanwhile, Scott Nickless is seeking permission to enable him to extend the six-bed HMO he already owns in Charles Street, Maidstone, into an eight-bed HMO. His application does not involve any further alterations to the building as all the work has already been done.

An HMO typically contains a number of lockable single bedrooms, usually with ensuite facilities, with the building’s residents sharing a kitchen and communal area.

They help single people find accommodation, but are often unpopular with existing residents on the street because they tend to result in an increase in the demand for parking spaces locally, and because they often result in long rows of wastebins outside the property, as typically each resident has his or her own set of bins. There have also been allegations that a large influx of single people can change the nature of a street otherwise given over mainly to families.

Maidstone currently has no specific planning policies on the creation of HMOs that would enable it to exercise control, a fact bemoaned by the Cllr Clive English, when he was the leader of the Lib Dem opposition to Maidstone council, back in March.

Frustrated at the council’s inability to exercise any control over HMO applications, Cllr English (Lib Dem) said then: “We need to get a grip on this issue once and for all and commission the work to get the evidence of parking pressure in these areas so that we can finally put policies in place to prevent inappropriate development.”

Parking in Campbell Road is already difficult
Parking in Campbell Road is already difficult

At his instigation, the planning committee wrote to the then Tory cabinet member for planning, Cllr Paul Cooper, asking that he develop such a policy.

Since the local elections in May, Cllr English is the deputy leader of the council and his friend and Lib Dem colleague, Cllr Tony Harwood, is the cabinet member with responsibility for planning policy.

KentOnline asked them what progress had been.

Cllr English said: “We have considered this in an informal cabinet discussion and there are two potential routes of control, looking at either planning or licensing.

“In the meantime, Tony and I have asked planning officers to expedite scoping what research would be needed to bring forward policies on the matter.”

The deputy leader of Maidstone council Clive English
The deputy leader of Maidstone council Clive English

“I am afraid Paul (Cooper) did not move forward with this when he was in office. Although to be fair there was not a large amount of time to do so.”

Cllr Harwood said that a change in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2021 had removed the only national policy that had enabled some councils to justify having a local policy to control HMOs, although he said that even that had been a “blunt and slightly wonky hook”.

Some councils have used “Article 4 directions” to control an explosion in HMOs, but their use is severely restricted by the NPPF.

They must be “limited to situations where an Article 4 direction is necessary to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area” and “in all cases, be based on robust evidence, and apply to the smallest geographical area possible”.

In other words, Maidstone council cannot simply implement a blanket ban or control across the borough, but would have to issue a separate Article 4 direction for each area - potentially each road - and justify that with evidence that an extra HMO would harm the locality.

Cllr Tony Harwood is now in charge of planning policy
Cllr Tony Harwood is now in charge of planning policy

Otherwise, any refusal of permission would just be overturned on appeal to a government inspector.

Back in May 2022, Cllr Paul Harper (Fant and Oakwood Independents) asked the council to impose an Article 4 direction on his ward of Fant where there were more than 115 HMOS already which were being added to at the rate of two a month. His request was refused.

At the time, the borough’s chief planning officer, Rob Jarman, promised a report on the measures that might be taken.

Cllr Harper said: “That report never materialised, but this remains a very pressing problem.

“During the local elections, when I was out talking to people on their doorsteps, HMOs were the thing that everybody mentioned.”

Cllr Paul Harper says it's time for action not words
Cllr Paul Harper says it's time for action not words

“People are in despair in Fant.

“An ever-growing number of HMOs just leads to a gradual erosion of the area.

“People are fed up that promises are made and then quietly filed away in the bottom drawer to be forgotten.

“It’s time the words were turned into some action.”

Details of the two current HMO applications can be found on the Maidstone council website.

Find out about planning applications that affect you at the Public Notice Portal.

The application for Campbell Road, which includes a single-storey rear extension, basement conversion, loft conversion and a further rear extension has the reference number 24/502296.

The application for 27, Charles Street has the reference 24 /502229.

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