The growth in student housing in Brighton has led to a big rise in complaints to the council’s planning department.
In just nine months, more complaints have been made to Brighton and Hove City Council than in the whole of the previous year.
The council’s newly promoted head of planning enforcement Robin Hodgetts said that the “proliferation” of shared houses – known as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) – had become an increasing priority.
Not all of the homes in question are student houses but many of them are.
Mr Hodgetts said that the council brought in new controls in 2013 – known as an Article 4 Direction. This required property owners to apply for planning permission before turning a traditional family home into a shared house. It also allowed for limits to the profusion of student housing.
The council’s enforcement team received 576 complaints about potential breaches of planning rules in the 2015-16 year, many of which were about student housing.
In the current year – since the start of last April – the team has received 680 complaints.
Mr Hodgetts said: “The workload has increased significantly this year. I would think that is entirely down to HMOs.”
He also said: “(It) was a challenging year for the planning enforcement team, with significant challenges faced in terms of resource within the team.
“Despite this a high number of cases were progressed and bought to a satisfactory conclusion through either negotiation with land owners or the service of a formal notice where necessary.”
The enforcement team had fallen behind with its caseload because of staff sickness and unfilled vacancies. He hoped to recruit new staff soon.
A call for more staff, time and money to help enforce the rules about HMOs came from Councillor Dan Yates, who represents Moulsecoomb and Bevendean Ward.
He has also been bombarded with complaints about shared houses, with many students living in his ward to be near the two universities – Sussex and Brighton.
Of the 576 overall complaints in 2015-16, almost half of the cases (194 or 45 per cent) were found not to have breached planning rules.
It was not expedient to spend time on minor breaches of the rules in 69 cases (17 per cent).
Full compliance with the rules was achieved without the need for enforcement action in 157 cases (36 per cent).
Compliance was achieved after the enforcement team served a statutory notice in 12 cases.
In all, 32 formal notices were served. Eight of them were directed at poorly maintained land or property.
In addition, Mr Hodgetts told the Planning Committee meeting at Hove Town Hall: “A programme of proactive work was undertaken in the London Road area to get owners to improve the condition of their properties.
“This achieved a number of improvements to the built environment in the area without the need for any formal notices.”
Councillor Adrian Morris, who represents Queen’s Park Ward, in Brighton, called for a similar focus in the St James’s Street area which is in his ward.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, the former chair of the Planning Committee, said: “The work you do is of incredible value.”
His remarks were echoed by the current chair Councillor Julie Cattell.
Jim Gowans, from the Conservation Advisory Group, called for the enforcement team to be strengthened. He thanked Mr Hodgetts and his colleagues for the work that they were doing “in extremely difficult circumstances”.