The Council’s Planning Department is responsible for ensuring that new developments are compatible with the neighbourhood where it will be situated. What is considered to be acceptable development is defined in the Council’s Local plan. This document runs to some 350 pages. The Local Plan explains the Council’s Planning Policies and how it will support those policies.
Where particular policies need more specific information this is usually provided through Supplementary Planning Documents. One of the main Supplementary Planning Documents is “The Residential Extensions Guidelines” – usually referred to as “The REGs”. This documents provides specific information to help guide homeowners, applicants, developers and agents when making a planning applications for a house extension or alteration. The aim of the REGs is to ensure a balance is struck between protecting neighbours’ interests, keeping a good quality and attractive street scene and meeting applicants’ reasonable expectations for increased accommodation.
The Council has carried out a consultation on a proposed revision of the REGs.
The proposed revisions included a number of changes that were of concern to HRA, particularly in respect of outbuildings and Houses in Multiple Occupation (“HMOs”). In respect of outbuildings HRA made the following submission:
HRA’s principle concern is to ensure that everything possible is done to address the widespread and vexatious problem of beds in sheds in the borough. This problem is concentrated in the three Heston wards, Cranford, and the three Hounslow wards. HRA has carried out extensive research into the reasons for the prolific number of beds in sheds in the borough and concludes that the one essential facility that enables an outbuilding to be used as a beds in sheds facility is a bathroom within the outbuilding. Without a bathroom it is virtually impossible for an outbuilding to be used as a beds in sheds facility.
It can be seen that every example of a beds in sheds facility that has resulted in enforcement action by the Council has included a bathroom facility. The proposal within section 4.8 to allow a wc and “small shower” in outbuildings blows wide open the opportunity for every outbuilding with a wc and “small shower” to be used as a beds in sheds facility. The proposed REGs will undermine all of the work done by the Rogue Landlord team and open the floodgates for Rogue Landlords to provide poor quality residential accommodation to vulnerable residents throughout the borough. The proposal is irresponsible because the consequences of allowing a wc and “small shower” in an outbuilding has not been thought through. The statement that “a toilet and small shower may be acceptable” should be removed from the document.
It should be noted that all beds in sheds facilities require a bathroom. All of the existing beds in sheds facilities were either permitted to include a bathroom when first built or added the bathroom at a later date using permissions derived from the Use Classes Order.
For many years the Council has ignored the requirements of the GPDO that all facilities within an outbuilding must be incidental to the main dwelling. Certificates of Lawfulness have often been wrongly approved on the basis that the bathroom would be used in conjunction of the outbuilding as a gym. Equally the council has frequently approved full planning applications for outbuildings which include a bathroom on the basis that the bathroom is to be used in conjunction with use of the outbuilding as a gym. In both cases there is no “reasonable requirement” for a bathroom based on use of the outbuilding as a gym. It is unlikely that there are any gardens in Hounslow that would allow siting of an outbuilding in such a way that it would take more than twenty seconds to walk from the outbuilding to the bathroom in the dwelling house. For most gardens the walk would be less than 10 seconds. That is a shorter distance than the walk from the gym in the Heston Leisure to the changing rooms.
Of course the main dwelling house has all of the convenience of a ready supply of hot water, soap and towels, and clean clothes to change into. The outbuilding would only have these facilities if the person using the outbuilding goes to the trouble of making the necessary arrangements. It is naïve in the extreme to continue to allow the suggestion that the outbuilding is to be used as a gym as justification for the inclusion of a bathroom in an outbuilding.
HRA has no doubt that the number of applications for Certificates of Lawfulness or planning permission for an outbuilding to be used as a gym that are subsequently used as a gym is negligible. The applicants are simply following a well-trodden path for creating a beds in sheds facility in order to deliver a lucrative source of untaxed income by exploiting a large underclass that is prepared to accept poor quality residential accommodation so long as it is cheap.
Of course the residents of the beds in sheds facilities put enormous pressure on all public services but make no contribution towards the cost of those services. It is inappropriate that, in allowing a wc and small shower in outbuildings, the council is encouraging and facilitating further growth in the number of beds in sheds facilities in the borough. The revision of the Councils REGs should be seen as an opportunity to address the very significant problem of beds in sheds that it has turned a blind eye to for many years.
It is, of course, impossible to define a “small shower” (when does a “small shower” become a “big shower”), or to ensure that the small shower is not converted to a large shower at a later date. Because of the inclusion of a small shower there would have to be ongoing monitoring of the use of the outbuilding because the inclusion of the wc and small shower enables outbuildings to be used as a beds in sheds facilities. The ongoing monitoring would need to be based on annual self-certification (a similar methodology to that used for ongoing monitoring of single person residences and 2nd homes), or annual site visit by council officers. Reliance on the public to report residential use as a separate residence would be quite inadequate. The Council’s refusal to carry out ongoing monitoring of the use of outbuildings is the single reason for beds in sheds facilities achieving immunity under the 4 year rule.
In the public hearings into the Local Plan the specific issue of outbuildings and extensions being converted to residential use was raised by Heston Residents’ Association. As a result, policy SC7 (Residential Extensions and Alterations) was modified to address this issue. Paragraph (d) states that the Council will use planning conditions to prevent the use of outbuildings or extensions as self-contained dwellings. Therefore to meet the requirements of policy SC7 of the Local Plan every approval of an outbuilding needs to include a condition to ensure that the proposed development is not used as a separate residence, or as part of a separate residence, and to preclude the addition of primary residential facilities using permissions derived from the Use Classes Order 1987 (as amended). It is unacceptable that the Council continues to ignore this requirement of the Local Plan. The proposal to allow a wc and “small shower” in any outbuilding is in direct conflict with the intent of Local Plan Policy SC7.
Where an outbuilding is built using PD rights, the GPDO requires all facilities within an outbuilding to be incidental to the main dwelling. A bathroom is a primary residential facility and therefore an outbuilding built using PD rights cannot become a beds in sheds facility unless a bathroom is added at a later date. It is for this reason that all outbuildings developed using PD rights should include a condition that is effective in preventing the addition of a bathroom using permissions derived from the Use Classes Order. That is a requirement of Local Plan Policy SC7.
In order to support the Council’s “official” policy of preventing the development of beds in sheds facilities, rather than allowing bathroom facilities in full planning applications, the revised REGs should be amended to bring them into line with the GPDO. No outbuilding should be allowed to include any primary residential facilities such as a bathroom, bedroom, sitting room, or kitchen. This harmonisation between outbuildings built using PD rights and those built under a full planning application is long overdue in Hounslow. Other Councils have already adopted this approach. Harmonisation would provide clarity and simplicity for both applicants and Planning Officers. It would also eliminate the inherent conflict with the statement in the proposed REGs that “an outbuilding must only be used in a manner incidental to the main house”. A bathroom within an outbuilding is not an incidental use because a bathroom is part and parcel of the main dwelling.
The consultation document suggests that the footprint of an outbuilding should be dependent on the scale of the garden area of the property. This is both vague and problematic because, so long as the required minimum amenity space remains, the footprint of the outbuilding could cover all of the remaining garden. This measure of permitted footprint size conflicts with the general concept that extensions and outbuildings should be a reasonable requirement.
Large outbuildings (exceeding 30 sqm) are frequently used for non-incidental purposes. Many Councils have already recognised that the main use of large outbuildings is as a separate residence used either by family members or by unrelated occupants as a source of rental income. Other Councils have adopted the principle that outbuildings, to be a reasonable requirement, should not exceed 30sqm in footprint. Because of the widespread problem of beds in sheds facilities in the borough the Council should follow the lead of other councils and adopt a limit in footprint for all outbuildings of 30sqm.
If Hounslow remains one of the few boroughs to allow large outbuildings, and allows those outbuildings to have a wc and small shower, rogue landlords will be encouraged to focus their activity in Hounslow. The borough might well become overwhelmed by beds in sheds facilities and all of the consequential issues that they give rise to such as increased levels of crime, anti-social behaviour, and excessive demand for services such as schools, GPs, hospital beds, and public transport.
Providing a loophole to facilitate the creation of beds in sheds facilities is naïve to the point of recklessness. While it might in the short term help to relieve pressure on housing, the long term consequences of the policy will be a major reduction in the quality of life of all residents of the borough, and a demand for social services which the Council will not be able to meet.
The consultation document advises that doors and windows must be installed within the front elevation to avoid overlooking into neighbouring plots. The current version of the REGs state that windows should only be installed in the elevation facing the main dwelling. The word “only” should be restored to the proposed REGs and “front” elevation should be changed to “elevation facing the main dwelling”.
It should be clearly stated that windows in side and rear elevations of an outbuildings are not permitted even if the windows are obscure glass. Even obscure glass intrudes on the privacy of neighbours. Windows are usually only included in side and rear elevations of outbuildings to facilitate use of the outbuilding as a beds in sheds facility.
The current version of the REGs requires outbuildings to be set in from all boundaries by 1 metre. The purpose of this requirement is to enable all elevations of the outbuilding to be maintained from within the curtilage of the dwelling house. Without this set-in to enable future maintenance, the development is not sustainable.
The one metre set-in rule also prevents the development of adjacent back gardens becoming terraces of outbuildings.
The requirement of a 1 metre set in from all boundaries should be retained in the proposed REGs.
HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION
The proposed REGs do not address the issue of applications for extensions that are intended to facilitate converting a family home into an HMO. The proposed REGs should include appropriate guidance.
HRA is concerned to ensure that HMOs needing planning permission are only approved in appropriate locations. The intent of Policy SC10 of the Local Plan is to support HMOs “only in locations suitable for more intensive occupancy”. Locating HMOs in suburban streets where houses were built as single family homes with an original footprint of less than 130 sqm is not considered appropriate. Locating them within 400 metres of metropolitan town centres is considered appropriate. It is a matter of common sense that supports this approach to development control. The Local Plan itself supports this common sense approach. The REGs should support this approach.
It is deeply disturbing that both the Planning Inspector’s decision in respect of 112 Hogarth Gardens and the decision in respect of 55 Burns Way challenge this requirement of the Local Plan. Not only does the Local Plan clearly state that the original footprint of the dwelling house should exceed 130 sqm but it is made explicitly clear that prior or proposed extensions should not be included in the footprint calculation. Both the Inspector’s decision and the Council’s decision on 55 Burns Way have failed to give due weight to this requirement of the Local Plan. In doing so these decisions have established case precedents that undermine the Local Plan and the proposed SPD on HMOs.
“HMO’s have been associated with various issues and local planning authorities across the country have sought to regulate them through the planning process as well as through housing legislation. Issues include poor standards of accommodation and loss of local housing character, impacts on local amenity, pressure on parking, noise and disturbance, loss of family sized houses, increased pressure on local services and a general loss of environmental quality. Existing residents can feel marginalised, isolated and demoralised by the change in nature of local communities” (see proposed SPD on HMOs). The current proliferation of conversions of family homes to HMOs driven by the opportunity for property speculators to make large profits from the current housing crisis, is a massive threat to community cohesion and to the maintenance of an acceptable standard of environment for borough residents.
The Residential Extensions Guidelines SPD (current and proposed) “aim to ensure that a balance is struck between protecting neighbours’ interests, keeping a good quality and attractive street scene and meeting applicant’s reasonable expectations for increased accommodation”. In considering applications for extensions there is currently no consideration of whether the intent of the applicant is to use the extension to turn the family home into an HMO. In the determination of the application it is always assumed that the applicant is seeking to increase his/her personal accommodation. This assumption becomes flawed if Local Plan policy SC10 in respect of HMOs is not supported in the respect of the requirement that planning permission for use as, or conversion to, an HMO is only granted where the original footprint of the dwelling house exceeds 130sqm.
In the Officer’s determination of 55 Burns Way the officer has overruled the requirements of the Local Plan and decided that existing extensions to the dwelling house can be included in the calculation of the footprint of the dwelling house when considering the suitability of the property for use as an HMO. Had it been stated by the applicant for those existing extension(s) that the extension were to enable use of the house as HMO the application(s) should have been refused on the basis that they were not a reasonable expectation of the applicant. Furthermore unless the intent to use the extensions as part of an HMO neighbours would not have had the opportunity of objecting to the proposed extensions on the basis that the intent of the applicant was to enable the existing single family home to be converted to an HMO, which would have harmful impact on their amenity and the character of the area.
In order to protect neighbours from the development of HMOs by stealth, every application for an extension should be required to state the exact purpose of the extension, and a condition should be applied to every application for an extension to restrict its use to the stated purpose and to prevent its use in the context of an HMO. If this is not done then the Council would fail “to strike the appropriate balance between protecting neighbours’ interests, keeping a good quality attractive street scene and meeting the reasonable expectations for increased accommodation”. Unless this protection by condition is provided the result will be a race between property speculators to buy every available family home and convert it to an HMO. This would make the current crisis for new entrants to the property market even worse since first time buyers would be priced-out of the market by the deeper pockets of property speculators. It would also marginalise existing residents with a long term commitment to maintaining good community values.
The proposed Houses in Multiple Occupation Supplementary Planning Document advises that “proposals for HMOs need to be located within convenient walking distance of town centre facilities and good public transport links. Essentially this means that proposed HMOs that need planning permission should have at least a good Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL 4), and should be within a 400m walk of town centre facilities (meaning Metropolitan and District Centres – Hounslow, Chiswick, Brentford, and Feltham town centres).” This requirement should be replicated and fully supported in the revised REGs.