Conwy: Study proposing to relax bedsit rules thrown out by committee

A CONWY committee threw out a study proposing to relax council rules on allowing bedsits.

Following years of problems in coastal towns like Colwyn Bay, Conwy adopted a planning policy of resisting all plans for new houses of multiple occupation (HMOs).

Typically HMOs house several people under one roof in large properties, but residents share kitchen and/or toilet facilities.

Large concentrations of HMO-type accommodation are regularly associated with deprivation and bringing related socio-economic problems, including, as was suggested in this report, public safety.

But despite Conwy blanketly refusing HMOs planning permission, the planning inspector has sometimes overturned the council’s decision on appeal, shifting additional costs onto the cash-strapped authority.

Conwy’s current homelessness crisis is also putting further strain on the authority to be able to deal with the current situation during a cost-of-living crisis.

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The council’s economy and place overview and scrutiny committee met today (Thursday) to discuss approving the study before it was to be fed into a new local development plan.

At the meeting at Bodlondeb, the report acknowledged that HMOs could have a place in housing, particularly when finding homes for younger single people, but added a series of provisions to protect areas from being overwhelmed.

Speaking at the start of the meeting, council officer James Harland said the report was one of around 60 that advised on the new local development plan, due to be finalised next year.

But Mr Harland admitted the subject had, in the past, been a contentious issue before Lichfields, the independent consultant who carried out the study, gave a presentation.

Lichfields listed South Parade in Abergele and Pensarn, Caroline Road in Llandudno, and Clifton Road in Llandudno as already having a high percentage of bedsit properties (28%, 25.5%, and 25% respectively).

Despite the report proposing a safety net of provisions when considering future planning applications to prevent a high concentration of bedsits, councillors voted against backing the report.

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Cllr Chris Hughes summed up how the chamber felt about the study.

“The number of bedsits has come down because of the actions we have taken in terms of the self-containment (of flats policy), which is why development over the last 18 years has been on a self-contained basis, rather than an HMO basis,” he said.

“So I think that is where there is a lot of concern. Taking out the self-containment policy or reducing self-containment (of flats) will lead to a significant increase (of HMOs) because it was only the policy which kept down the number.”

He added: “At one point in time, in parts of Conwy, we had a higher density (of HMOs) than the centre of London.”

Cllr Louise Emery also shared her concerns about guesthouses and hotels in tourist areas like Llandudno being vulnerable to being converted to HMOs, despite the report stating they should be protected.

Provisions included within the study, the consultant suggested, would protect areas from developing a high concentration of HMOs.

One suggestion was to prohibit more than 10% of properties being an HMO in a 50m radius.

Another banned ‘sandwiching’ other homes between two HMO-type properties.

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Another proposed that landlords must provide satisfactory amenity space, bin storage, and internal room sizes.

The rules also said there must not be adverse impacts, such as noise, overlooking, or general disturbance, and that there should be appropriate access, parking, and cycle storage.

The report also found that Conwy has an aging population with a larger proportion of elderly than the national average and higher than average house prices in the county, resulting in affordability pressures.

But the report also said there was a lower proportion of HMOs than elsewhere in Wales, due to the lack of a local university.

The study acknowledged that HMOs could provide an affordable option for young people.

But Councillors voted to reject the HMO study, which will now go before the cabinet for consideration.

North Wales Pioneer | Llandudno