Agenda item

DM/23/01237/FPA - 41 Fieldhouse Lane, Durham, DH1 4LT

Change of use from five bed dwellinghouse to seven bed HMO (sui generis). 


The Planning Officer, David Richards gave a detailed presentation on the report relating to the abovementioned planning application, a copy of which had been circulated (for copy see file of minutes).  Members noted that the written report was supplemented by a visual presentation which included photographs of the site.  The Planning Officer advised that Members of the Committee had visited the site and were familiar with the location and setting.  The application was for change of use from five bed dwellinghouse to seven bed HMO (sui generis) and was recommended for approval subject to conditions as set out within the report.


The Planning Officer noted that data on Council Tax exempt properties within 100m, including the application property, showed there were 7.7 percent, below the 10 percent threshold within CDP Policy 16.  He noted that there had been objections from the City of Durham Parish Council, as well as 117 letters of objection, including from the Local MP, Mary Foy.  The Planning Officer noted that Officers felt the application was in line with Policy and therefore was recommended for approval.


The Chair thanked the Planning Officer and asked Parish Councillor Grenville Holland, representing the City of Durham Parish Council, to speak in relation to the application.


Parish Councillor G Holland thanked the Chair and Committee and explained that the problem that Durham City communities faced was the way that, in the past 25 years, the landlords had systematically consumed family homes in Durham City to such an extent that, as a university city, records show that Durham has the highest student to population ratio in the country, with a similarly disproportionate number of HMOs with its socially damaging loss of family homes.  He asked therefore why we were adding to it here when we already had more than enough student accommodation available in our city and the university had over a thousand more available in the pipeline.  


Parish Councillor G Holland noted as a matter of principle, we should be putting families and our communities first, and not always pandering to the transient and temporary student accommodation market, or gladly lining landlords’ pockets.  He noted that the Officer’s report, in reaching its recommendation to approve an HMO at this locality, had placed far too much emphasis on the single CDP Policy 16 with its so-called 10 percent rule in a 100-metre circle.  He noted that use of that Policy must be endorsed by other equally important policies, both national and local.  He added that a balanced decision was required here, and not one that relied on a single policy option. 



He explained that, in particular, Policy 16 was not exempt from these other policies and they carried the same weight, and could not simply be set aside as if they had little relevance, or ignored on the untested presumption that their terms had somehow been met, or that the damage caused by the proposed HMO would not be all that bad, which was what has happened here.   


Parish Councillor G Holland explained that important and substantive group of policies, ranging from NPPF Part 12 to DCNP Policy H3, all placed constraints on the application and those constraints must also be satisfied, yet the report paid only scant attention to them.  He added that NPPF section 12, paragraph 130 expected that developments such as this would function well and, in particular, would “add to the overall quality of the area”.  He noted Members would hear from the next speaker that the proposed HMO conversion of a family home simply does not do that, rather on the contrary, it diminished the quality of this area. 


He added that the important environmental Policy 29 of the County Durham Plan was central to most developments in our county.  He noted 29(a), required development to: “contribute positively to an area’s character, identity, townscape and landscape features”, and also “to create and reinforce locally distinctive and sustainable communities”.  He noted that the application certainly did not achieve that outcome.  He added that 29(e) expected developments to “provide high standards of amenity and privacy and minimise the impact of [the] development upon the occupants of existing adjacent and nearby properties”.  He noted that, at this locality, the over blown HMO, coupled to two neighbouring HMOs, would do exactly the opposite.  He explained that the vision of 29(f) was of a development that would “contribute towards healthy neighbourhoods” and asked where the evidence was that this conversion of a family home made such a contribution.


Parish Councillor G Holland noted Policy 31 of the CDP addressed concerns that “there will be no unacceptable impact, either individually or cumulatively, on health, living or working conditions” and that this HMO “can be integrated effectively with any existing community facilities.”  He added that the clustering of three HMOs into a single location, into what was essentially an uncontrolled Purpose Build Student Accommodation (PBSA), would have quite the opposite effect.


Parish Councillor G Holland explained that the more local, but equally relevant, DCNP Policy S1, sought to “conserve the significance of the setting, character, local distinctiveness, (and) tranquillity,” and also find “equity and benefit to the local community” while DCNP Policy D4 was designed to protect “the character and appearance of the local area”.  He added that was most certainly not what was on offer here. 

He noted that DCNP Policy H3 required that a development “sustain and make a positive contribution to the character and quality of the area”.  He asked how the proposed HMO, by creating a cluster formation, achieve that?  


Parish Councillor G Holland noted that the common thread to this wide range of policies was embedded in the NPPF and found expression in many of our County and City policies, repeatedly requiring us to “add to the overall quality of the area”.  He asked where was the evidence this improvement?

Parish Councillor G Holland explained that the proposed HMO, at the heart of a family-oriented community, sitting on the fringe of a city centre already saturated with HMOs, clearly failed a string of key environmental policies and, as a result, the application must fail, otherwise, those policies were made redundant.  He noted that, as in other areas of the city, our community in North End now feels both threatened and diminished, and they were looking to the Committee, as their only line of defence, to protect them.  He argued that the reasons for refusal were strong, with the Parish Council, alongside our Local MP, with her excellent letter of objection, strongly urging Members to refuse this application.


The Chair thanked Parish Councillor G Holland and asked Allan Gemmill, Local Resident speaking in objection, to address the Committee, noting there were accompanying slides to his presentation.


A Gemmill explained that the residents of North End were deeply concerned about the negative effect that HMOs were having on our community.  He noted he was honoured to be representing those residents at Committee and explained that he had a background in building, and therefore he would like to start by bringing Members’ attention to several technical problems with the application.


A Gemmill explained that firstly, it was not a five-bed dwelling, it could only be considered a four-bedroom house as it had no Building Control consent for a fifth bedroom in the loft.  He added that secondly, the Land Registry confirmed that the passage between the adjacent buildings belonged to No. 42, not to No. 41 and consequently, there was no external right of access to the rear of the applicant property.  He noted that looking at the proposed plans, Members could see that there was no door to Bed Seven, contravening Fire Safety regulations and Durham Constabulary’s recommendations.


In reference to the Council’s own “Standards for Houses in Multiple Occupation”, A Gemmill noted that two WCs were required for six to ten persons, however, the attic toilet was wholly contained within Bed Seven so it could only be associated with one occupant.  He added the other six were thus restricted to one WC, failing the requirement. 

He noted that no shared living space was proposed, in which case the standards require that the minimum size of each bedroom to be 10m2, not the 7.5m2 in the Officer’s report.  He added that Bedrooms Three and Four were smaller than this and consequently could not be used as bedrooms.  He explained that for an attic room, the standards required a minimum height of 2.15m over a 50 percent area and, as measured, the maximum height in Bed Seven was less than this, and therefore could not be used as a bedroom either.


A Gemmill explained that those failings meant that, on technical grounds alone, the application could not be approved.  He added that the applicant had already installed three students in the property, ahead of the Committee’s decision today.  He explained that he felt there were also wider issues, with the Officer’s report confirming that the revised Parking SPD required four spaces, but then determines that only two were sufficient.  He asked why was that brand-new policy being abandoned even before the ink was dry?  He noted the Highways Authority’s response was that occupants would be allowed permits to park ‘on street’.  He added that those Officers had clearly not witnessed the parking-related issues already affecting Fieldhouse Lane, especially at school pick-up time, nor had they seen wheelchair users from the nearby care home having to resort to using the road.  He explained that the increased on-street parking, contrary to Policy 21 and the SPD, could only worsen an existing highway safety issue.


A Gemmill noted that a lack of access to the rear meant that three further bins, and ideally the bike store, must be located at the front of the building.  He added that, coupled with the proposed doubling of hardstanding for parking, no room would be left for any soft landscaping, completely at odds with the requirements of two SPDs.  He noted that, based on past experience, one could also anticipate issues regarding the upkeep of the property and rubbish associated with it, referring to slide showing pictures of nearby HMOs that graphically illustrated the problems.


A Gemmill noted that, finally, an issue that was of huge concern to residents was that of the well-documented problem of noise, disruption and anti-social behaviour associated with student HMOs, especially where clustered together, as at the nearby 1 Larches Road.  He noted that what lay ahead of residents, if Members approved the application today, was a group of three properties housing about 20 students, with adjacent gardens offering opportunities for parties and other gatherings at all times of the day or night, in effect creating an uncontrolled PBSA. 


A Gemmill reiterated that over 130 local residents took the trouble to write and object to this application, as did the Local MP and the Parish Council, both of whom had given residents tremendous support. 

He added that, more than anything else, they had expressed deep concern and frustration at the continuing, harmful loss of family homes caused by the relentless spread of HMOs.  He noted that we were well past the ‘tipping point’ referred to at the Committee’s meeting in May.  He added that the policies identified by our Parish Councillor required that development should lead to improvement, adding what faced us was quite the opposite.  He concluded by noting, on behalf of the residents of North End, he urged Members to refuse the application and stop the needless loss of another family home in this part of the City.


The Chair thanked A Gemmill and asked the Legal Officer (Planning and Highways) to respond to the points raised.  The Legal Officer (Planning and Highways) noted that in relation to the new Parking SPD referred to, that new SPD was not yet in effect and therefore requirements would be as per the previous SPD as set out within the report.


The Chair asked Councillor E Scott, Local Member to speak in respect of the application.


Councillor E Scott noted many of her concerns were similar to those put forward in terms of the first application, in terms of the proposals being in breach of policy and having large public objection.  She noted that it would be the loss on another family home and referred Members to a decision where they had refused an application for 1 Larches Road in May which sought change of use from six bed to nine bed.  She noted this application represented and additional seven HMOs beds and would have the same impacts as the application refused in May.  She reiterated that the application was contrary to Policies other than Policy 16, one in particular being Policy 29(e).  She asked that the Committee carefully consider the application and refuse permission.


The Chair thanked Councillor E Scott and asked the Committee for their comments and questions.


Councillor L Brown referred to paragraph 103 and 104 of the Committee report and asked whether, given there were two in-curtilage parking spaces, that the property would not get permits to enable parking in the street.  The Highway Development Manager, Phil Harrison explained there would be there would be three permits per property, regardless of the two off-street parking spaces.


Councillor L Brown asked as regards whether the parking surface material was known.



Councillor J Elmer noted that too often Policy 16 was looked at whenever there was an HMO to consider at Committee.  He noted that the percentage within 100 metres was 7.7 percent, however, that only represented Council Tax exempt property, rather than any other type of HMO that could exist.  He noted that Members could consider the wider amenity issues relating to existing residents and he was concerned as regards the technical issues as raised by A Gemmill in his presentation, especially in terms of the number of bedrooms and what could and could not be considered a bedroom, and the number of toilets.  He noted that the parking provision resulted in a loss of garden and living space, noting he understood from his daughter who was living is such as student property, the issues that arose.  He noted that the gardens of such student properties over a time tended to become of a poor quality and that such a property would not offer the positive experience that Durham University was trying to offer through their own properties.  Councillor J Elmer noted he felt that the refusal of the application could be justified based on NPPF, CDP and DCNP policies in terms of the impact upon the amenity of residents of the city.


The Chair asked if Officers had any response to the points raised by A Gemmill as referred to by Members.  The Principal Planning Officer noted many of the issues raised were not Planning matters rather Building Control, however, he noted that NDSS and where they applied had been explained to the Committee in terms of Policy 29(e).  He noted Councillor E Scott had referred to the decision relating to 1 Larches Road made by the Committee in May for refusal.  He added that that application was pending appeal and the Committee would be updated in due course as regards the outcome.  He reiterated that Officer felt the key policy was Policy 16, in respect of the 10 percent threshold of Council Tax exempt properties within 100 metres, however, there were other policies Members could attach weight to as per the 1 Larches Road in relation to Policy 31.  He reiterated that the Officer’s recommendation was for approval.


Councillor D Sutton-Lloyd noted he felt Policy 16 was short-sighted in some regards and added why have other policies if they could not be used to look at an application.  He added he had been moved by the presentation from Parish Councillor G Holland and agreed the proliferation of HMOs was akin to measles on one’s face, and he felt that many good points had been raised in terms of refusal.


Councillor K Shaw explained he felt there was a continued drip-drip of applications such that family homes were being lost in Durham City.  He added that we needed urgently in place a policy that helped to balance the needs of the University, students and residents.  He noted he felt, similar to the refusal of 1 Larches Road, the application should be refused, being contrary to Policies 6, 29 and 31 of the CDP and Part 15 of the NPPF and moved refusal.

Councillor J Elmer seconded the motion for refusal.


The Chair noted that the Committee would be greatly interested in the appeal decision relating to 1 Larches Road and asked if there had been any further information to date.  The Principal Planning Officer noted no change since May.


Upon a vote being taken, it was:




That the application be REFUSED as the change in use of the property to a larger house in multiple occupation (Use Class Sui Generis) would have an adverse impact upon the amenity of existing residents and the character of the area through increased noise, disturbance and anti-social behaviour, contrary to the aims of policies 6, 29 and 31 of the County Durham Plan and Parts 12 and 15 of the NPPF.


Supporting documents: