Labour Policy on Regulating House Sharing in Cambridge – May 2014

Monday, April 21st, 2014. 5:11pm

Cambridge Labour Party have in recent years proposed capping the number of shared houses permitted on any street, or part of a street, in Cambridge, and have proposed requiring properties shared by just three people be licensed by the council.

I have strongly opposed such excessive regulation as I fear it would reduce the availability of cheaper accommodation in the city, making living in Cambridge unaffordable for those in a position such as that I was in a few years ago.

I have previously written two articles on this subject:

As we come up to local council elections in May 2014 at which, it has been suggested there’s a good chance Labour may be elected to run the city council, I’ve been trying to understand Cambridge Labour’s current position on the regulation of shared houses.

The Labour Party have published a manifesto for the city council: One Cambridge – Fair for All.

There is no manifesto commitment to cap the number of shared houses in an area, or on a certain street, as Labour had previously proposed, and which had been included in their 2012 manifesto. There is no longer any promise to increase regulation of shared houses either. However Labour’s current manifesto for Cambridge does not rule either of these options out, and those keen to see such approaches could well be encouraged by what they read. The manifesto promises Labour would:

  • Review the council’s policies towards the regulation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), with a view to recognising the crucial role HMOs provide in allowing people to afford to live in the city and balancing this with the need to improve the quality and safety of HMOs.
  • Implement the policies in respect to HMOs once the new local plan is adopted, which includes the power to refuse any planning application for new HMOs unless they have in place a proper management plan to monitor and minimise anti-social behaviour and the impact on local residents.

The first bullet point appears to relate to licencing; but it does not give me the detail I want. It doesn’t answer the question of if Labour proposes requiring more shared houses to be licenced.

What is apparently being referred to in the second point is policy 48 of the draft Local Plan which deals with how the council will consider planning applications for a change of use to a property where six unrelated individuals will live. Policy 5/7 of the current local plan states:

The development of supported housing and the development of properties for multiple occupation will be permitted subject to:

  • the potential impact on the residential amenity of the local area;

  • the suitability of the building or site; and
  • the proximity of bus stops and pedestrian and cycle routes, shops and other local services.

The proposed new plan states such houses of multiple occupation will be supported where the proposal:

  • does not create an over-concentration of such a use in the local area, or cause harm to residential amenity or the surrounding area;
  • the building or site (including any outbuildings) is suitable for use as housing in multiple occupation, with provision made, for example, for appropriate refuse and recycling storage, cycle and car parking and drying areas; and
  • will be accessible to sustainable modes of transport, shops and other local services.

Appropriate management arrangements should be put in place in order to monitor and minimise antisocial behaviour and adverse impact on local residents. A condition to this effect may be applied to any planning consent.

It’s not clear what the Labour manifesto means when it says: “Implement the policies in respect to HMOs” if it means simply make planning decisions following the proposed new local plan, then that’s hardly worth saying, that’s the default position and what would be expected of them. If it’s a confirmation that they won’t seek to amend the local plan and are happy with it, I think that’s good. I think the plan does well to give councillors considering specific applications the ability to make decisions based on the particular circumstances of an individual property.

Labour’s 2012 manifesto for Cambridge City Council stated:

Use the powers provided by the last Labour government to extend Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licensing, to improve standards for tenants and the management standards of private landlords.

While that line isn’t in the current manifesto; what they are currently saying appears to leave that approach open as a possibility. There appears to me to be a lack of clarity, openness and honesty about Labour’s proposals, or lack of them. It may be that in fact Labour don’t have a an idea yet of what they might do beyond “review the council’s policies”.

I have been concerned by statements by Labour candidate for Romsey Dave Baigent, who, while using the public speaking slot at a Cambridge City Council meeting on the 3rd of April appeared not to have appreciated that many of those who share houses are not students, but that shared houses are a significant source of affordable housing for many of those working in the city. See: a Cambridge News report following the exchange.

There is significant hatred from some Cambridge residents towards students; this regularly bubbles above the surface at the city’s public meetings including area committees. Often it appears that the hate (perhaps that’s too strong and I should just say “wrath”?) is directed at young people in general, and house sharers, with other residents labeling them “students” either out of a misunderstanding or using the term “student” in derogatory manner.

I would have liked to have seen the Labour manifesto stressing the importance of greater harmony between the different groups of people who live in the city, and making that one of the aims of any regulation.

My Views

  • Regulation ought be focused on the physical structure of a property and not on who lives in it, and how they live within the property.
  • I think groups of, at least, up to six people ought be able to rent any property on the market to live in; their choice should not be restricted to properties which councillors have given specific planning permission or licenses.
  • Problems with nuisance, such as noise, from a shared house ought be dealt with in just the same way as any other property.
  • The council should never get involved in inspecting, and restricting, who can live where within a house, or if people are allowed to share their bedroom with another person.
  • If three unrelated people are living in a property; there should be no greater regulation from the state than if there were two brothers and a third housemate.
  • From the point of view of the state, the council, access to on street parking ought not depend on if someone is living in a shared house or not, or if they are a student or not. Universities’ rules on students possessing cars ought not be a factor in councils’ dealings with them; though parking might be a factor in planning considerations. See also my article: On-Street Parking Permits for Students in Cambridge and my comments on parking at Wessex Place.
  • I think it’s right councillors consider a planning application, and decide if to give permission or not, when a purpose built, or adapted, building with six or more rooms to be let out individually to different people is proposed; as at that level there is a significant change in use from a domestic property.
  • The key underlying problem is the high price of property when compared to people’s incomes. This results in people living in unsuitable accommodation, and in overcrowded conditions, in poor quality properties.
  • I don’t think shared houses are a particular cause of problems in the city; it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish between shared houses and other properties on most of Cambridge’s streets.

5 comments/updates on “Labour Policy on Regulating House Sharing in Cambridge – May 2014

  1. Amanda Taylor

    Let’s hope they have dropped this dreadful idea. It will take the Council into places it has no business going, apart from questioning the lifestyles of anyone who doesn’t fit the definition of ‘normal’ nuclear family.

  2. Amanda Taylor

    Let’s hope they have dropped that idea. It would take the Council into places it has no business to be apart from being antagonistic to those whose lifestyles do not fit the expectations of a ‘normal’ nuclear family.

  3. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve invited some Labour candidates to comment via Twitter:

    A couple of Liberal Democrat councillors have said they’d be interested in a response:

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’ve commented on candiadate Dave Baigent’s blog, where he has copied and pasted the manifesto section on the private rental sector to say

    I’ve tried to make sense of this manifesto section at:

    A key question for me is if Cambridge Labour are still considering requiring licensing of homes shared by just three people. While such a proposal is not explicitly present in the current manifesto it is not ruled out.

    The promise of a review is very vague and leaves open all possibilities. I don’t see much point in publishing a manifesto if, on important points, it just promises a review of a policy. This manifesto section reads like a horoscope designed for different people to be able to read different things into.

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