Guy Horne, co-founder and managing director of HS Property Group, considers what the introduction of the Article 4 direction in Salford means for those most vulnerable in the city.
Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) have long been considered a viable antidote to the social housing crisis blighting Britain. They can be utilised as a useful stopgap for those on waiting lists for social homes as a method to decrease homelessness levels. HMOs can also go some way to counteracting the lack of social housing available, providing they reflect the Decent Homes Standard.
You can understand our disappointment then, when Salford City Council introduced an Article 4 Direction in November 2018, which removed permitted development rights for changes of use from dwellings to small HMOs across Salford.
An Article 4 Direction restricts conversions of single dwelling houses (c3) to small HMOs for between three to six people (c4) by permitted development rights. In this case, a HMO in Salford, which would previously have been classed as ‘permitted development’, will now require permission granted via a planning application, which is an arduous process and frequently rejected.
The restriction has frequently been introduced into university towns and cities, aiming to reduce the proliferation of student HMOs pushing out local residents.
At a time when homelessness is rife – according to Shelter, one in every 135 people in Greater Manchester is homeless – surely enforcing stifling new policy will dramatically decrease the number of homes available to society’s most vulnerable? The Article 4 Direction is also likely to impede Andy Burnham’s pledge to eliminate rough sleeping by 2020.
Government guidance says local authorities should consider making Article 4 Directions only in those exceptional circumstances where the exercise of permitted development rights would harm local amenity, the historic environment or the proper planning of the area.
Without any clear explanation as to the justification of this Direction, its introduction is dampening efforts to provide inclusive homes at a time and in a place when people need them most. What’s more, limiting available housing stock has had a knock-on effect resulting in a significant rise to property prices: especially existing HMOs.
Salford is the third of 10 Local Authorities to introduce the restriction in Greater Manchester, with it likely to be imposed in other key areas across the North West, such as Oldham. That said, investing in HMOs currently in uninhibited areas will offer a significant advantage in terms of speed of acquisition and will no doubt benefit from future price increases, if and when the limitation comes into practice.
While we agree that closely monitoring the quality of homes is vital, we feel it can be achieved via other, less restrictive means that will allow development to take place when and where it is needed.
Research from Crisis shows 90,000 homes need to be built at social rent levels every year for the next 15 years to meet demand among the lowest income brackets. Using vacant properties to create shared housing opportunities and stronger communities is a vital defence against the housing crisis in Salford and beyond. Ultimately, the Article 4 Direction in Salford will mean fewer quality homes are readily available for the city’s most vulnerable.