Public consultation needed on Dundee HMO policy

In advance of a report on the review of Dundee’s HMO policy going before councillors on the City Council Licensing Committee tomorrow (the report can be read here), yesterday I met with the Director of Housing and the council’s Principal Housing Officer of its Private Sector Services Unit to discuss issues around the report and its findings.
 
Apart from a welcome proposal for site visits by Licensing Committee members before contentious applications are determined, the report envisages little change and I have made the point to the Director of Housing that, as the last public consultation on HMO policy was now some eight years ago, a new consultation process to get the public’s views is vital.  
 
I have also asked questions about the areas where HMO numbers exceed the 12.5% limit and have also questioned the rationale for the limit being 12.5% in the first place.
 
Additionally, whilst welcoming site visits for contentious applications, there is merit in also considering site visits to the areas where levels are exceeded, some very significantly. 
 
Crucially, however, a new period of public consultation on HMO policy which is now eight years old is clearly necessary.
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Houses in Multiple Occupation policy

Following discussions and meetings with a number of constituents, I have been in correspondence with the City Council’s Head of Democratic and Legal Services about the council’s Houses in Multiple Occupation policies and concerns about the way policies are working in practice.
 
He has now advised me :
 
“Further to previous correspondence, I thought that you would wish to know that the Director of Housing is preparing a report for the meeting of the Licensing Committee on 5th February 2015 setting out the current policy on HMOs (the 12.5% in each census output area limit) and also how this has operated in practice. 
 
The Committee’s instructions will be sought as to whether to retain this policy or to review it. 
 
If the decision is to review the policy, then a full consultation with interested parties will take place. It is our general practice to circulate consultation documentation such as this to all elected members.”
 
I have posed a series of questions to the City Council about the number of census output areas where the 12.5% HMO limit has been breached, the reasons for this and complaints levels.    I will thereafter be meeting with council officers to discuss the issues further before the report referred to above is presented to the Licensing Committee.
 
I am pleased to discuss issues around HMO policy with local residents at any time.

Call for review of council’s HMO policies

I have called on the City Council to consider a tightening up of planning and licensing limits for Houses in Multiple Occupation to curtail any further growth in the number HMOs in residential areas of Dundee.    
 
There are growing concerns from residents in parts of the West End Ward about the proliferation of HMOs and I have cited the granting of an HMO licence in an award-winning residential block in the West End as an example of a poor licensing decision, which highlights the need to consider operating a lower HMO limit outwith immediate higher education campus areas.
 
The current planning policy adopted by the City Council is :
 
“POLICY HMO2: AVOIDING EXCESSIVE CONCENTRATION OF HMOS  :   Within the Central Dundee Housing Investment Focus Area as identified in the Dundee Local Plan Review 2005, planning applications for HMOs that would result in the proportion of licensed HMOs in any Census Output Area exceeding 12.5% of the total residential stock will not be supported unless there are clear material considerations which would justify permission being granted. Purpose built HMO accommodation will be excluded from this assessment. This policy will not apply to the area within the city centre as defined in the Local Plan.”
 
A similar 12.5% limit applies for HMO licence applications and the number of new HMO licence approvals in residential areas has to be reduced.   There is clear public support for a lower number of Houses in Multiple Occupancy in residential areas.    
 
There needs to be a review of the current policies for both licensing and planning purposes and the City Council does have to listen to public concern on this important issue.
 

HMOs … and Sussex for the weekend!

 

Friday’s ‘Courier’ covered residents’ concerns about the extent of the growth of houses in multiple occupation in some streets in the West End, following the matter being discussed at the Licensing Committee on Thursday. As the report in the Courier mentioned, I have welcomed the introduction on HMO limits for both planning and licensing purposes. I recently requested updates about how the limit policy is working and I’ll report back to residents on feedback.

I’ve been away in Sussex this weekend as my long-standing friend Julie had her 40th birthday party in Wivelsfield – in the village hall – a lovely village on the East/West Sussex border. A super night and the weather would have made you think it was June or July. Anyway, a few photos from Saturday above! If you go to http://www.wivelsfield.net/nfHome.asp?, you can read the Wivelsfield community website – Julie’s husband Colin (who has been a friend of mine for … well, forever) is a Parish councillor.

Magdalen Green Band Concerts, HMOs, Post Offices

Firstly, pleased to note band concerts on Magdalen Green starting again on Sunday – please click on headline above for more details.
The Licensing Committee of the City Council yesterday adopted a new policy of restricting HMO licence numbers in any area to 12.5% of housing; a sensible move and similar to the policy adopted for planning purposes last year. I am not a Licensing Committee member but had responded to their recent consultation on the matter, suggesting adoption of a parallel policy to that of Planning’s.
The only exception to the new 12.5% licensing rule will be in the “City Centre”; yesterday I queried the boundaries of this as in planning terms, the Central Dundee Housing Investment Focus Area is wider than the City Centre and includes parts of the West End. However, I have received a map from the City Council showing the exempt area does not include any of the area west of the campus area, so the streets in the West End where residents have raised concerns will be covered by the new policy.
In my latest FOCUS newsletter, I raised residents’ concerns about the future of the Post Office Network. We have a number of vital Post Offices in the West End. I therefore wrote expressing concern to the Trade and Industry Secretary, Alistair Darling MP. For the record, here’s the DTI’s response :
Dear Mr Macpherson

Thank you for your e-mail to Alistair Darling about the future of the post office network.

The Government recognises the important social and economic role of post offices, particularly in rural and deprived urban communities. That is why the Government is determined to maintain a national post office network allowing people to have reasonable access across the whole country and has put in place a new policy and financial framework to achieve this.

There is wide acceptance – including from the National Federation of Subpostmasters – that the current size of the network is unsustainable. New technology, changing lifestyles and a wider choice of accessing services mean that people are not visiting post offices as often as they used to. The network’s losses are now running at almost £4 million a week – double what it was two years ago and that will increase further unless action is taken.

The Government’s public consultation on proposals aimed at securing a sustainable future for the network ran from 14 December 2006 to 8 March 2007. The consultation attracted over 2,500 responses and the Government announced on 17 May its decisions in light of the responses received.

The Government has been investing substantial sums in the post office network, totalling £2 billion since 1999. That has, for example, paid for a computer link-up for every post office as well as support for non-commercial branches since 2003. The Government has decided (subject to European State Aid clearance) to extend that support to 2011 with the provision of up to another £1.7 billion additional funding.

This funding will support a new strategic framework for the Post Office. There will be clearly defined minimum access criteria to safeguard rural, deprived urban and remote coverage. This will ensure that the vulnerable communities most in need of post office services will be protected. The network will be supplemented by 500 new and innovative Outreach locations, operated in partnership with other local services such as in pubs, village halls, churches or in mobile post offices, which will mitigate closures, primarily in smaller and more remote communities. Nevertheless, to ensure sustainability, there will need to be up to 2,500 compensated post office closures within the defined access criteria.

Post Office Limited is responsible for implementing the programme at a local level. They plan a rolling programme of 50 to 60 local consultations on detailed area plans, based on groups of Parliamentary constituencies. It will take around 18 months to complete, starting from Summer 2007. The Government does not have a role in proposals or decisions for individual post offices.
As well as the numeric access criteria, it is recognised that, in drawing-up implementation plans, Post Office Ltd will need to take into account local factors affecting ease of access, such as local geography: rivers, mountains etc. Post Office Ltd will also be required to consider the availability of public transport and alternative access to key post office services, local demographics and the impact on local communities. No areas will be subject to more than one round of closures and area proposals will be developed with the participation of sub-postmasters, local authorities and Postwatch before Post Office Ltd carry out local consultations, which will provide everyone with the opportunity to raise any specific concerns over particular proposals.
The Government has supported Post Office Ltd in its efforts to develop its range of financial service products, with Government’s investment having included £500 million for the Horizon project to bring computer systems into every post office throughout the UK.

The Post Office recognises the need to increase its range of services and products and that it needs to adapt to changing shopping habits and give subpostmasters high quality products to sell which appeal to the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s customers. Post Office Ltd is now the largest provider of foreign currency in the UK and the third largest provider of travel insurance. The Post Office is also the UK’s 5th largest fixed-line telephone service provider and has opened 175,000 Instant Saver Accounts in the product’s first year. New products have been introduced and more are in the pipeline. The Post Office will be launching a broadband service later this year in partnership with BT. That will enable it to become a key player in the broadband-based services market, offering Post Office broadband services to the public. That will give people another reason to go into post offices. BT recognises the value of having a shop-front up and down the country.

The value of having a national network is that there can be national agreements to provide travel insurance, broadband services and so on, which individual subpostmasters could never negotiate on their own. That is something that the National Federation of Subpostmasters supports.

The Government introduced the Post Office card account in 2003 and the current contract ends in March 2010. The Government has decided that it will continue with a new account after 2010. The new account will be available nationally and customers will be eligible for the account on the same basis as they are now. EU procurement rules mean that we need to competitively tender for this product. Given the size of the network and the access criteria that we are now introducing, the Post Office is well placed to put in a strong bid.
In addition, cash will be available at the Post Office through some 4,000 free-to-use cashpoint machines now being introduced across the network as well as a range of interest-paying accounts. These will be attractive to the general public as well as those Post Office card account users who choose to build up balances on their Card Account.

The Government’s policy framework, now in place, will enable Post Office Ltd to evolve to meet changing customer expectations and rise to the on-going challenges of doing business in today’s marketplace – whilst ensuring the provision of a truly national network.

If you have any specific concerns about the provision of post office services in your area, they are advised to take the matter up direct with Post Office Ltd for clarification. This can be done via the company’s website www.postoffice.co.uk or by phoning 08457 22 33 44 or by writing to POL Customer Care, FREEPOST NAT 18105, Sunderland SR3 3BR.

I hope the above is helpful.

Yours sincerely

Rosemary Buck
DTI/Shareholder Executive
Royal Mail and Postal Services Team

Magdalen Green, Monthly West End Community Council Update, Tait’s Lane

Really excellent further meeting with residents yesterday on Magdalen Green issues and an excellent overview by the City Council’s landscape architect. We are now looking to progress to a “Friends of Magdalen Green” steering group at our next meeting in January. But yesterday’s was really positive with plenty of good ideas to progress.
On my way to my surgery last night, had a check of the new road surface in Tait’s Lane and to check that the “nib” in the road towards the south end that used to jut out causing problems for drivers had been fixed as I was promised – it has! – see photo!
Two matters of significance at Council committees last night for our local area – firstly, the Tay Hotel Finalised Development Brief was approved – and the long-awaited HMO planning report was also approved. For planning purposes this restricts the growth of HMOs in particular streets amongst other sensible reforms.
Lastly, have launched this month’s West End Community Council Update (meeting is tonight) – you can read article about this and download update itself by following the link above.