The University of Sussex has cut ties with a student developer who has been aggressively converting or enlarging student homes on Brighton’s estates, residents have been told.
Rivers Birtwell, which has bought dozens of properties in Bevendean, Coldean and Moulsecoomb to rent to students, has had mixed success in converting them to shared houses (HMOs) or enlarging them because of restrictions on the number of HMOs in these areas.
It had also been taking advantage of a loophole by letting via the university, which is exempt from shared house restrictions. But this arrangement, known as head-leasing, is now at an end.
And residents were also told that there had been a “bogus endorsement” of the developers by the university – although it is unclear what this meant.
Rivers Birtwell said that it had not included bogus endorsements in connection with any of the properties owned or managed by the company – and it had ended the relationship with Sussex University rather than the other way round.
According to the minutes of a meeting of the Coldean Residents Association on Tuesday, July 3, the university’s housing manager Becky Nash told residents: “Sussex Uni has cut all ties with Rivers Birtwell following their publication of bogus endorsements from the University, and will not be housing any more of their students in Rivers Birtwell properties.”
A university spokeswoman said she was not sure what the bogus endorsement referred to, but that it was not university policy for employees to comment on planning applications.
She also confirmed that the university was no longer working with Rivers Birtwell – although said this was not because of the endorsements.
In August 2017, a comment in support of one of the developer’s applications, at 17 Park Road, was submitted in the name of an employee of the university’s housing services, saying that it had been “taken on” by the university the previous September, adding: “We have found it to be an excellent property which our tenants have been very happy living in.
“It certainly ranks among the best in private rental housing which is to be found in the city, with a good level of thought given to design rather than the usual piecemeal conversions seen.”
Cllr Tracey Hill, in whose Hollingbury and Stanmer ward Park Road lies, said: “When I noticed that the University of Sussex had written in support of the HMO planning application at 17 Park Road, I queried it with them.
“That application generated a lot of objections and was eventually refused. The university told me that it wasn’t their policy to comment on planning applications in this way, so I don’t really know why it was there.
“The comments were quoted extensively by the planning inspector who was deciding the appeal. Luckily, despite giving weight to these comments, the appeal was dismissed. It would have been really unfortunate if the university’s comments had played a role in the refusal being overturned.
“Rivers Birtwell were claiming that they had a partnership with the University of Sussex, and the university’s logo appeared on their website. I asked senior officers at the university about this, and shortly afterwards the university’s logos were removed from the website and the wording was amended to remove any mention of a partnership.
“Residents in my ward were also unhappy that comments had been posted in support of another Rivers Birtwell planning application in their name, without their knowledge.
“The residents were University of Brighton students, and the comments were removed at their request. The new upgraded planning register will make it more difficult for this to happen because you have to register with an email verification to make an online comment.”
Rivers Birtwell declined to comment.
River Birtwell’s student housing empire – planning applications since 2013
2 Plymouth Avenue – Enlarge HMO, latest application awaiting decision. Convert to small HMO, approved. Enforcement notice to cease use as a large HMO and remove roof extensions issued in May 2018.
8 Plymouth Avenue – Convert to HMO, refused
51 Plymouth Avenue – Convert to HMO, approved
63 Bodiam Avenue – Enlarge HMO, refused. Convert to HMO, approved.
122 The Avenue – Enlarge HMO, refused but allowed on appeal
103 Norwich Drive – Convert to small HMO submitted
166 Heath Hill Avenue – Convert house and garage to small HMO, approved
110 Auckland Drive – Convert to HMO, approved. Option to extend it, refused.
17 Upper Bevendean Avenue – Approving existing use since 1998 as an HMO, approved
22 Walmer Crescent – Convert to small HMO, withdrawn
26 Bevendean Crescent – Enlarge HMO, refused. Loft conversion approved. Certificate of lawfulness for small HMO refused
97 Hornby Road – Convert to HMO, submitted
39 Hornby Road – Convert to HMO, withdrawn
40 Coldean Lane – Convert to HMO, refused
12 Twyford Road – Convert to small HMO, awaiting decision
81 Hawkhurst Road – Enlarge HMO, no decision in time, appeal lodged
63 Park Road – Two bids to enlarge HMO, both refused, one appeal dismissed, one lodged. Loft and rear extension approved.
17 Park Road – Enlarge HMO, refused, appeal dismissed. Loft conversion approved. Certificate of lawfulness refused
50 Beatty Avenue – Convert to HMO, submitted
10 Selham Close – Convert to HMO, submitted
25 Wheatfield Way – Retrospective permission to enlarge HMO, refused twice. Approving existing use as an HMO since 2012, approved. Enforcement notice to cease use as a large HMO, complied Nov 2017.
18 Colbourne Avenue – Enlarge HMO, two applications refused allowed on appeal
52 Barcombe Road – Convert to HMO, first large then small, both refused. Appeal over large HMO conversion dismissed. Certificate of existing HMO use, refused and appeal dismissed. Enforcement notice to remove rear cormer.
33 Hillside – Rear extension, refused. Enlarge HMO, refused and appeal dismissed. Loft extension, refused and allowed on appeal
50 Chailey Road – Convert to small HMO, approved
92 Newick Road – Enlarge HMO, refused. loft conversion, refused. Enforcement notice to cease use as HMO complied Jan 2018
20 Ashurst Road – Approve existing loft conversion, refused. Enforcement notice to cease use as an HMO issued April 2018.
9 The Crescent – Loft extension, refused but allowed on appeal. Enlarge HMO refused but allowed on appeal
17 Nyetimber Hill – Loft extension, approved. Enlarge HMO, refused but allowed on appeal
11 Egginton Road – Convert to HMO, refused
103 Halland Road – Enlarge HMO, refused and dismissed on appeal. Enforcement notice to cease use as an HMO issued January 2018.
1 Fountains Close – Convert to HMO, withdrawn
Hanover and Elm Grove
171 Elm Grove – Rear extension, refused but appeal allowed. Enlarge HMO allowed
47 Islingword Road – Enlarge HMO, refused, appeal allowed