Down but not out

The application for a large HMO at 10 Larchwood Drive was heard by the Planning Committee at the Civic Offices, Addlestone last night when our local Councillors did a sterling job of speaking out against the many problems that we suffer from as a result of the high density of HMOs used to accommodate students of Royal Holloway University.

The issues of noise, ASB, excess refuse, lack of parking and loss of local amenities as families are displaced were all well vocalised.  However, the Planning Officers repeatedly pointed out to the Councillors that while the council recognised these problems, they were not, in themselves, valid reasons to reject this planning application.  Indeed, the Planning Officer for this case had already made a recommendation to approve the application as it was in line with the Runnymede Local Plan.  And that’s our problem.

The current Runnymede Local Plan has no restrictions on HMOs anywhere in the borough and this is a legacy of the Conservative majority that existed in the Council until the local elections in May this year.

As we pointed out in our news item in April, the expansion of Royal Holloway was voted for by the Conservatives in 2015 and this resulted in the huge increase in the numbers of students being drawn into the area looking for accommodation.  

While many other councils – particularly, but not exclusively, in regions with their own universities – introduced measures such as an ‘Article 4 Direction’ to manage the numbers and densities of HMOs, the Runnymede Conservatives ignored the rising tide of complaints from residents as more and more of our family homes were bought by investors and turned into HMOs – and did nothing.  In fact, as our article ‘Tory Councillors Misleading Residents?’ highlighted in April, Englefield Green Conservative Councillors claimed that they had looked into the whole issue of HMOs and that it wasn’t practical or perhaps possible to restrict HMOs by regulation!  Not a view shared, apparently, by those many other councils which have done just that!

What we really need is an updated local plan that draws on the best practice and experience of those other councils that have implemented measures to regulate the proliferation of HMOs before our own community becomes devoid of affordable family accommodation and little more than an extension of the university campus.

In the meantime, the outcome of last night’s meeting is likely to be that the large HMO in Larchwood Drive will be permitted albeit with an additional parking space and a reduction in additional bedrooms from 3 to 2.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that residents can make a difference because, without the number of letters of representation that were submitted in response to this application, it would never have been brought before the Planning Committee where our Councillors could – and did – speak up against the growing concerns relating to HMOs and loss of community.