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September 26, 2008 11:26 AM

A senior Lib Dem campaigner has welcomed an announcement that Housing Minister Caroline Flint is to introduce new proposals to address "studentification" in university towns such as Newcastle in a new Housing Green Paper - but has expressed regret that the move has taken so long.

Councillor Greg Stone, Lib Dem Parliamentary spokesman for Newcastle East, is also calling for a loophole in the Government's plans to be tightened.

Reports suggest that the Government will finally back Lib Dem calls to extend Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) planning and licensing powers already operating in Northern Ireland throughout Britain, allowing local authorities more power to regulate the private rented sector of student accommodation by requiring formal "change of use class" planning permission to convert dwellings into student rented properties.

The city council agreed a motion from North Jesmond Lib Dem councillor Ron Armstrong in 2007 which calls for exactly the type of measures Flint is proposing

Massive growth in the student population of the city - currently estimated at 36,000 - in recent years was not addressed by the previous Labour council administration, who did little to encourage new purpose built accommodation, and permitted a significant number of affordable and family homes in these areas to be converted to student rentals.

Since 2004, the Lib Dem council administration has introduced local planning policies to restrain further proliferation in established family residential areas, and has encouraged development of new purpose built student accommodation blocks close to campus and in edge of city centre locations.

In the period between 2000 and 2008, the student private rented sector has expanded from 2% to nearly 5% of the total homes in the city, with major knock on effects for availability of housing.

Greg Stone said: "It is welcome to see that the Government has finally taken on board the persistent and continuous Lib Dem call for action on this matter over the last decade, but it has come many years too late in Newcastle.

"First we had to wait five years for Labour to introduce HMO licensing powers, only to find that the eventual 2003 Act failed to give sufficient power to councils to address this issue.

"We have long called for England to have the same powers as Northern Ireland on this matter, which has a major impact on quality of life for students and locals alike in areas of my constituency such as Jesmond, Sandyford and Heaton.

"Students and the universities are vital and very welcome contributors to the life and economy of Newcastle but the failure to manage the impact of massive growth in numbers between 1997 and 2004 by Labour has caused problems.

"By contrast, the Lib Dems have been proved right in our proactive approach to this issue.

"Residents support our efforts to restrict further proliferation, and by supporting new purpose built accommodation, we hope to see the excess private rented stock converted back into affordable homes for first time buyers and families.

"However, we are concerned that another recent announcement by Caroline Flint - which proposed a change in the law to allow householders to extend their properties or convert attic space without planning permission - offers a loophole which student landlords could exploit.

"I am already aware of numerous applications of this type in my own ward of North

Heaton, which we fear are attempts to circumvent the council's student housing restraint policy by adding more bedrooms to facilitate conversion of dwelling houses into HMOs. This inconsistency needs to be addressed."


This Council notes that:

*In England a family house and a house in multiple occupation ( HMO) with up to 6 tenants are in the same Use Class, in planning terms, which means that planning permission is not required to use what was a family house as an HMO.

*In Northern Ireland the planning rules were changed in 2004, so that planning permission is needed to use a family house as an HMO.

*If the planning rules in England were changed to those pertaining in Northern Ireland, it would be much easier to control the distribution and local density of HMOs in the City.

Therefore Council resolves to ask the Government to change the planning rules in England to those of Northern Ireland, in respect of the use of family homes as HMOs.