A Glimmer of Hope

At the Runnymede civic offices on 5th October last, members of the Overview & Scrutiny Select Committee voted unanimously in favour of a new work stream that would:

‘investigate options for future direction in policy development to mitigate the impact of the density and proliferation of Houses of Multiple Occupation on residents of the RBC wards neighbouring the RHUL campus.’

As many of you are aware, Royal Holloway’s expansion has had little regard for the impact on the neighbouring community and one consequence of this has been the proliferation of HMOs which, in turn, has resulted in numerous detrimental consequences for both individual residents and community alike.

Earlier this year, we reported that the RBC Planning Policy Team had undertaken some preliminary work, and subsequently published a report, to inform the introduction of an Article 4 Direction which could have made future HMOs subject to a planning application.  This report highlighted the numerous problems that can be associated with high densities of HMOs and many of those problems are already evident in both Egham and Englefield Green.  However, the introduction of an Article 4 Direction would have also required amendments to the Runnymede Local Plan but, unfortunately, the review of this plan has been put on hold until new planning legislation is finalised and so it is likely that an Article 4 Direction is now some way off.

As we pointed out in our article in April though, HMOs can be regulated through licencing conditions as well as the planning regime and it is likely that this new committee work stream will look at options in this sphere and will almost certainly look at what other councils – many of which are years ahead of Runnymede in this respect – have done to mitigate against the same problems.

The paper laid before the meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Select Committee indicated the areas that Runnymede should now consider and included:

  • Better enforcement of current regulations,
  • Extending licencing to all HMOs and not just those with 5 or more occupants as now,
  • Toughen local HMO licencing to include landlord responsibility for ASB,
  • Improve communications with landlords and
  • Introduce a Joint Enforcement Team (JET) to help tackle ASB

While it’s too early to speculate on what the outcomes of the committee’s work might be, it’s more than likely that it will look for evidence of the problems that we see locally which is why it’s so important to report issues such as ASB, noise, excess waste, unkempt properties and inappropriate estate agent signs.  Even if your report doesn’t result in an immediate resolution, it will help to build up the picture of the size and location of the problems.

The committee may also conduct public surveys, make site visits, hold public meetings and even invite Royal Holloway to the council chamber as a witness to apprise the committee of its growth plans.  We will, of course, let you know as soon as we have further news on any of this.

After the elections in May, when the Conservatives lost their majority in Runnymede, we published an article entitled ‘A New Dawn’ and our optimism cautiously grows as our new councillors start to grapple with these chronic and deep-rooted problems.  We must support them.