The boom in shared houses has fuelled a big increase in the number of planning complaints being made to Brighton and Hove City Council.
More than 800 complaints were made to the council’s Planning Enforcement Team in the year to the end of March.
The 820 complaints compared with 576 in the previous year, principal planning enforcement officer Robin Hodgetts told the council’s Planning Committee this afternoon (Wednesday 12 July).
Mr Hodgetts said: “The Planning Enforcement Team investigated an extremely high number of cases and resolved a significant number of breaches of planning regulations during 2016-17.”
While 820 new cases were opened, 604 were closed, up from 432 in the previous year.
Mr Hodgetts said: “Both of these figures represent a significant increase on previous years and is attributed to the significant increase in reports of unauthorised HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) in the city.
“This was despite a large portion of the year in which there were only two officers in the team.
“Despite the extremely difficult circumstances and such a high volume of cases, a good level of customer satisfaction was maintained.
“Only three corporate complaints were received in relation to enforcement activity/investigations for the year (the same as received in 2015-16).
“There were no breach of condition or stop notices served, nor were any injunctions applied for.
“In 52 per cent of the cases closed, there was found to be no breach of planning control.
“This figure has been increasing in recent years with the main reason being the increase in HMOs within the city and in particular the Lewes Road corridor.
“Most of these are referred to us with a significant number being established as authorised HMOs and as such not in breach of planning regulations.
“In 14 per cent of cases closed it was determined that it was not expedient to pursue formal enforcement proceedings as the breach was minor, not causing unacceptable harm and not in the public interest. This is down 3 per cent on the previous year.
“In 28 per cent of cases there were breaches of planning identified which were significant enough to consider action but were resolved through negotiation instead. This is a decrease from 36 per cent for the previous year.
“Where there was found to be a significant breach of planning control, or where development was considered to be causing unacceptable harm, compliance was achieved in 94 per cent of the cases before formal action was required.
“In 2 per cent of all cases received, compliance was achieved through the issuing of a formal enforcement notice.
“Serving an enforcement notice is the most common and effective method of remedying unauthorised development when informal negotiation has failed.
“The council is required to be proportionate and reasonable when serving a formal enforcement notice and significant harm must be identified.
“Forty three formal notices were served in the 2016-17 period, an increase of 11 from the previous year.”
Three of the notices were listed building enforcement notices and three related to the poor condition of land or property, known section 215 notices.
Mr Hodgetts said: “The proliferation of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) across certain wards within the east of the city has continued to increase.
“Planning controls were introduced through an article 4 direction in 2013, requiring them to obtain planning permission.
“Awareness of this was raised across the whole city and methods of investigation were formulated.
“In 2016-17 192 cases were received relating to HMOs compared to 72 the previous year.”
Mr Hodgetts said that it had been “an extremely challenging year for the planning enforcement team with significant changes faced in terms of resources and caseloads”.
He added: “In spite of a significantly increased number of cases, reduced officers, a new database to implement and an office relocation, an extremely high number of cases were investigated to conclusion.
“This is due in no small part to the considerable hard work and dedication of the officers within the team, along with improvements made to the way cases are progressed and handled.”
Councillor Julie Cattell thanked Mr Hodgetts and praised him and his team after he presented his report at Hove Town Hall.
He was also praised by Councillor Michael Inkpin-Leissner, who represents Hollingdean and Stanmer Ward, which includes Coldean – where the number of student houses and other shared houses has increased significantly.
Councillor Inkpin-Leissner also pointed out that the public were able to report unauthorised HMOs to the Planning Enforcement Team.
Mr Hodgett said that there was a complaint form on the planning enforcement page on the council’s website.
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