Councillors finally agree policy to halt excessive amount of student housing

November 30 2020

After almost four years of work by a cross party group of councillors, Bristol City Council approved a new housing planning policy in November which will allow the council to restrict the proportion of shared houses in areas of the city.
The policy was arrived at by a group of cross-party councillors including Clive Stevens (Green) Anthony Negus (Lib Dem), Mark Weston (Con) and Labour's Paul Smith and Nicola Beech.  
Councillor for Cotham, Anthony Negus said: “Following my crucial council motion on student mitigation I’ve led the lobbying that’s produced an enhanced and clear Supplementary Planning Document that will control concentrations of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in our communities. The system, particularly the dysfunctionality around Planning and Licensing, requires constant watchfulness.”
The news was welcomed by Action for Balanced Communities (ABC), an initiative formed in 2015 by residents groups to respond to the impact of rapid university expansion on their communities. ABC worked with Cllr Stevens and others to demonstrate flaws with planning rules and helped them develop the details of the policy.
The policy will restrict the proportion of shared houses (HMOs) in parts of Bristol, setting a threshold of 10%. If approved, new HMO developments in areas of Cotham, Clifton Down, Redland and other HMO hotspots would be refused permission except in exceptional circumstances. The policy was proposed in response to a rapid expansion of HMOs in recent years to meet growing student numbers, which has restricted the supply of other types of homes and sometimes caused friction between long-term residents and students in parts of the city.
The policy also sets higher quality guidelines for HMOs in a bid to improve conditions, setting higher standards for room sizes, sound insulation and bin and bike storage.
Cllr Stevens said: “Way back in January 2017 I spoke at a Council meeting about how the unmanaged growth of Bristol’s universities (especially University of Bristol) was affecting our city’s housing market and thus the high rent and poor quality of accommodation suffered by students and others. Not enough halls of residence means too many conversions of homes into HMOs, making it harder for everyone else to find accommodation. And in parts of Bristol an over-concentration of HMOs has also created conflict between long-term residents and students and led to complaints over noise and waste.
“I think it will lead to a more balanced housing mix in Bristol that works for local residents, students and others.”
Caroline Dix, chair of ABC Bristol said: “The HMO SPD is the culmination of five years of hard work by the residents’ associations represented by ABC and is a real step forward for communities throughout the city – it will make a difference to so many residents in the long term. With protection from an unchecked spread of HMOs and limitations on numbers in any area, more homes will be available for families and couples and the negative impacts on communities of having high density clusters of HMOs will be reduced.
“Although this doesn’t stop the harm in areas of the city that are already oversaturated with HMOs, it has firmly put the brakes on the situation getting any worse. ”