Plans to turn another family home into a shared house in Brighton divided members of the council’s Planning Committee.
The owner of the Elm Grove property said that it would provide a vital place to live for people on low incomes who could not afford to rent a place of their own.
But local councillors said that that were already too many HMOs (houses in multiple occupation), mostly housing transient tenants and weakening the fabric of the community.
But according to Brighton and Hove City Council’s records, there were not so many shared houses in the area to rule out a change of use on policy grounds.
Four councillors backed the plans and four opposed them, leaving the decision to the casting vote of Green councillor Leo Littman, who chairs the committee.
His vote in favour means that the applicant, Mishbec Ltd, can turn 141 Elm Grove into a small HMO, with five bedrooms and five tenants.
The company can also build an extension at the back of the terraced property – which has two storeys and a basement – and create a rear dormer roof.
Two Green councillors, David Gibson and Steph Powell, who represent Hanover and Elm Grove ward, lodged objections to the plans, as did nine local residents.
Councillor Powell told the Planning Committee that the change of use would put pressure on local services and parking and would increase the amount of rubbish and recycling in the area.
She said: “I object to this because it’s already an area, a ward, with a high number of HMOs.
“It is mostly, I believe, a transient population. I believe the impact of these changes will affect the fabric of the local community.”
Mishbec’s owner Patrick Eraut, 53, told the Planning Committee on Wednesday (1 December) that his scheme was a high-quality shared house.
Mr Eraut said: “HMOs provide vital accommodation for those on low incomes. People we depend on every day to bring us essential services, who can be too often taken for granted, need affordable accommodation.
“The density of HMOs along this part of Elm Grove is reasonably low so clearly there is no oversupply of HMOs in this small location.”
The council has a policy to prevent a property being turned into a shared house if more than 10 per cent of homes within 50 metres are already HMOs.
But, according to council records, just 3 per cent of the properties within 50 metres are licensed HMOs.
Labour councillor Nick Childs, who said that he used to live in the area, was shocked. He told the meeting at Hove Town Hall: “The figures are just not correct.
“You walk around and just look and you can tell, if you live in the area, there are loads more HMOs.
“I really think as an authority we need to be looking at and reviewing how we monitor these things and whether we need to take a more investigatory approach.”
Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh said that one of her sons lived in the area and she said that it was full of shared houses and also questioned the figures.
Labour councillor Clare Moonan said: “These properties must be advertised on Rightmove or somewhere. If a ward councillor reports a property they thought was an unlicensed HMO, surely some investigation could happen.”
Green councillor Leo Littman, who chairs the Planning Committee, agreed that there should potentially be an investigation into unlicensed HMOs.
Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that he had not thought that there was a square inch of the area that developers could convert into a shared house.
He said: “I’d almost congratulate the developer in finding somewhere where it’s possible to get down as low as 3 per cent.
“I will be very glad when we have some of our new policies in place where entire communities can be better protected from HMOs because of the nature and density of HMOs.”
Despite his concerns about another family home being lost, Councillor Yates said that the proposed design was good.
If the plans were for a large family home, they would be approved anywhere in Brighton and Hove, he said, and he would not have argued against them.
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