What Cost Balanced Communities? One Landlord’s View on Article 4 Directions

Steve Bartlett, NLA Representative for Dorset, explains his change of heart about Article Four Directions

Article 4 Directions mean that anyone renting a property with 3 or more unrelated people will require planning permission if the property does not have established rights to do so. Many local authorities are using this ‘planning tool’ as a mechanism for creating what they call a more ‘balanced’ community. In reality these local authorities are preventing tenants the freedom to choose where they wish to live, and for landlords, to prevent them from renting out properties to certain groups of people.

So called ‘studentification’ (an area that has become saturated with high numbers of students) is often quoted as a reason for introducing the Article 4 Direction, whereby a often small but vociferous minority of local residents have complained to the local authority about the anti social behaviour frequently associated with student populations. Where councils have introduced this measure, it is not only students and landlords who are affected but other groups of individuals who traditionally choose shared housing, e.g. young professionals, migrant workers, workers on low wages and benefit recipients.

I fully understand and sympathise with home owners who have seen their residential areas slowly turned into an extension of the university campus, but this is a product of allowing universities to be built and then grow without providing sufficient housing and infrastructure. In most cases, the horse has already bolted and Article 4 cannot return former residential areas to their previous status because the right to operate residential properties as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has been established through use.

It is probably fair to say that the majority of the general public support Article 4 legislation, and I confess that my initial reaction was the same, however, as my knowledge has increased and the issues have emerged I am now vehemently opposed to it because of how I believe local authorities can and are using the legislation to  ‘shape’ it’s view of society, as opposed to how the society will shape itself through the ‘natural order’ of things. For example, where areas of towns have a high number of HMOs, Article 4 will be used to prevent additional HMOs from being established.  I believe this will happen not only in areas where there are high numbers of students but additionally, and specifically where the groups of people mentioned earlier wish to live. I have heard councillors and even my local MP state the desire to create a ‘more balanced’ society in certain areas of the town and this is my main concern.

Just what constitutes a ‘more balanced’ community? More Welsh people, more Scottish people, more migrants, more married people, more gay people, more older people, more children, more rich people, more poor people, more working people, more unemployed people etc. etc. (get the message?) And what right has a local authority to decide what this should look like?

What I believe local authorities mean by a more ‘balanced’ community is to get rid of those elements of the communities that that they dislike or are perceived to be problematical.  I have heard this termed as ‘social engineering’ and I guess this is exactly what it is and the target of such prejudice includes the poor, the vulnerable, migrants and yes students who live in shared accommodation. We should not forget that all of these individuals have the some rights as anyone else!

It is my belief that in the main, communities structure and balance themselves naturally based on all sorts of factors and these communities change constantly over time. For example, former residential areas near universities now have thriving vibrant communities which bristle with life and where businesses (including being a landlord) now thrive in areas which were previously in decline. Yes there are problems, although they are often overstated, but these can be addressed by cooperation by stakeholders within the community and by the council using existing powers when required.  We should not allow Local Authorities to use Article 4 legislation to denude our basic freedoms of choice or to ‘socially engineer’ our communities.

3 thoughts on “What Cost Balanced Communities? One Landlord’s View on Article 4 Directions

  1. Article four has more problems than social engineering it has a direct result on property values. If a local authority decides to take the aricle 4 route in a particular area it means that particular area has a high demand for that type of accommodation. If you own an HMO in this area and there is a planning ambargo on more such properties then your HMO becomes more valuable to property investors.

    Alternately, due to the high incidence of HMOs in the area, those properties which are not currently HMOs will not be of interest to ordinary family buyers. They will only be of inerest to investors. However, as these investors are now precluded from converting to HMOs, those normal non HMO residences in the article 4 area are blighted.

  2. I completely concur with Steve’s views. Of course few families would choose to live in a street of terraced houses where nearly all your neighbours are students but the imposition of an Article 4 direction, that will sometimes cover the whole geographical area of a City is a draconian measure applied after the horse has bolted.
    I worry that those very same residents who have politcally campaigned to have this newish planning class introduced will be making further noises in the other direction when they come to sell their homes and find them to be hard to sell and worth less than the identical property next door/across the road that does have class C4 use.
    It really is best to let market forces take control, in time universities will build more residences, who knows with the new educational fee structure fewer students may live away from their parental home or even go to university at all. Unfettered, time is a good rebalancing mechanism.

  3. There is no joined up thinking in the approach to Article 4. Local Authorities denying/ reducing creation of new HMO’s at the same time as an overhaul to the benefits system which is to force under 35 year olds into bedsit HMO accommodation! How does the Government and Local Authorities propose to house the people who will fall into this category of housing need. A recent programme BBC 3 ‘Britains hidden homeless’ highlights this.

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