YMCA loses appeal and faces enforcement action over controversial housing in Sunderland
A government planning inspector has backed Sunderland City Council’s decision to refuse plans for a controversial house in multiple occupation (HMO).
The retrospective planning application was turned down by the council’s area development control sub-committee in December 2019.
At the time, concerns were raised over reports of antisocial behaviour linked to the site with opposition from neighbours, local governors for Thornhill Academy and Northumbria Police.
YMCA Wearside Ltd also appealed against a council enforcement notice, issued in January 2020, to ‘cease the use of the property as a HMO’ due to the change of use without planning permission.
Planning inspector Elaine Gray was later appointed by the Secretary of State to rule on both appeals.
In a decision notice published last in July, the inspector upheld the council’s decision to refuse the HMO and said the enforcement notice could go ahead.
According to the inspector, the main issue in the case included the effect of the development on the character of the area and living conditions of nearby residents with regard to noise and disturbance.
The four-bedroom HMO was targeted at young people in need of support due to a range of personal circumstances, with occupants “essentially still living independent lives,” the decision report states.
Under a management plan for the site, visitors were not allowed except immediate family by prior arrangement, with staff attending the property on a regular basis – from daily visits from an outreach worker to housing inspections and housekeeping calls.
The inspector said the staff visits, taken in combination with the activities of residents and their own personal visitors, amounted to a “significantly increased level of comings and goings, over and above those that would normally be generated by a private dwelling of the same size.”
The decision report also referenced email correspondence between YMCA Wearside Ltd and the council’s anti-social behaviour officer, which confirmed that the last anti-social behaviour complaint was received in August 2018.
While noting the experience and management practices of YMCA Wearside Ltd, the planning inspector said that any noise or disturbance at the property “would be likely to be exacerbated by the unusually secluded nature of Evelyn Street” – which only has seven properties.
The report reads: “The appellant is experienced in the management of HMOs and there can be no doubt of the value of their work with vulnerable young people. Nevertheless, planning permissions are not given directly to specific organisations.
“They remain with the land, and so if I were to grant planning permission for this development, there would be nothing to stop the property being disposed of to another HMO provider, be they speculative or otherwise.”
The inspector went on to say: “There is no dispute that the property provides a good standard of living accommodation for the residents.
“However, I am satisfied that the development results in an intensification of comings and goings which, in the context of the street, leads to a degree of increased disturbance to neighbouring and nearby residents, thereby harming the quiet character of the area.
“The development thus unacceptably conflicts with [the council’s] Core Strategy Development Plan Policy H6 and with the National Planning Policy Framework, which seeks to promote healthy and safe communities.”
Dwellings in the area are subject to an ‘article 4’ direction removing the right to change the use of a house to a HMO without planning permission.
Following the appeal decision, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for Dynamic City, Cllr Rebecca Atkinson, confirmed the enforcement notice is active again.
“When the council considers planning applications, it looks at local and national policies before arriving at a decision,” she said.
“This application, which was also retrospective, was not in line with policies and the use of the property as a HMO provoked strong feelings from its neighbours.
“The enforcement notice to cease the use of 3 Evelyn Street as a HMO was ‘set aside’ during the Planning Inspectorate’s determination of the appeal from YMCA Wearside Ltd.
“Following the appeal dismissal, the six month notice is now active again and ends in January 2021.
“Failing to comply with a notice is a criminal offence with fines of up to £20,000 if imposed by a Magistrates Court and unlimited fines if imposed by the Crown Court.”
YMCA Wearside Ltd was approached for comment.