Balanced communities are key to thriving residential areas in Canterbury

"We need balanced communities," says Rick Norman.

After David Kemsley from south Canterbury called for fewer student lets, Prof Rick Norman offers his insight into one of the city’s key talking points:

Should there be limits on the number of houses in multiple occupancy in Canterbury? That question is pretty much settled.

Canterbury City Council has accepted that there should be, and most residents agree. But it’s worth reminding ourselves of the reasons.

First, as David Kemsley says, too many HMOs means not enough affordable family housing.

Prof Rick Norman

We need both, but we also need the right balance, and you can’t just leave that to the property market. There have to be policies, and that means controls.

Secondly, we all know that HMOs locally are mostly student houses – and it’s not being anti-student to recognise that things work best for everyone if an area is a mix of student and non-student housing rather than almost all student houses.

Most students in the community are living in their own house for the first time and with the best will in the world, there are things they don’t know and habits they haven’t acquired.

There’s also no getting around the fact that communities work best if there are long-term residents who have a continuing interest in keeping the area as an attractive place to live.

That’s why most students will themselves say that they prefer living in a mixed area rather than a student ghetto.

The council’s policy is to aim for balanced communities. That’s a good way of putting it, and it’s in everybody’s interests.

So there is now a policy that planning permission is required to convert a house to an HMO – and permission will normally be refused if there is already a high proportion of

HMOs in the area. That argument has been won. The question now is how to implement it.

And as David Kemsley says, that means having a reliable list of where the existing HMOs are.

The council response is to rely on council tax records. If a house is exempt council tax, that’s a good indication that it is a student house and therefore an HMO.

But we know that that is not a reliable guide. When, in our residents’ association, we’ve looked at council lists, we always seen that houses we know are HMOs are not listed.

St Peter’s Grove is popular with buy-to-let landlords

It should get easier. The government has, just last week, introduced new legislation extending mandatory licensing for HMOs.

The rule is now that any property occupied by five or more unrelated people must have a licence. Landlords owning such properties must apply to the council for a licence by October 1.

Let’s hope that Canterbury City Council – short-staffed as it is – has arrangements in place to deal with the applications.

It will still leave the problem of listing HMOs with three or four occupants, to which mandatory licensing will not apply.

Our residents’ association has always said that we know, better than anyone, which houses are HMOs.

We have offered to work with the council to supply the information and help them keep their records accurate. So far they’ve not taken up the offer. We still hope they will.

Rick Norman was professor of moral philosophy at the University of Kent. Now retired, he is chairman of St Michael’s Road Area Residents’ Association and is active in various local campaigns. He writes today in a personal capacity.

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