Action for Balanced Communities (ABC) response to the Local Plan Review consultation

Note: It’s important that groups and individuals also submit responses, highlighting specific aspects relevant to their neighbourhoods. The ABC draft may provide useful points, but please ensure you turn this into your own words. The deadline for responses is 24 May 19. To respond, email: blp@bristol.gov.uk

Make it clear which proposal you are commenting on by quoting the reference number. Please note your name (or name of your organisation) and comments may be made publicly available. Please be aware a couple of additional points have come to light which you may wish to consider in your groups response:

UOB have NOT provided formal assurance that their increase in student numbers will mainly be 1 year Masters students, and the increase COULD be in the undergraduate population, therefore despite the increases in purpose built student accommodation this would only just cover first year students requirements and NOT account for the additional accommodation needed to cover 2nd and 3rd year requirements which could put further pressure on housing throughout the city and lead to conversion of more family homes to HMOs.

The ABC response will be updated to state that the comments are predicated on the assumption that most or all of the UoB growth will be one-year Masters students who will live in specialist student accommodation. If this is not the case the local plan controls suggested within the review do not address the negative impact the increase in 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students will have on the housing and rental market throughout the city (because of the lack of controls for house conversions to flats, etc).

London Mayor Sadiq Kahn has called for on the government to introduce a simple registration system for landlords who wish to let out property for more than 90 days a year (i.e. short lets). This system would allow local councils to enforce the 90 day rule and help them understand the balance between permanent housing and short term lets.  See https://www.planningportal.co.uk/news/article/632/planning_news_-_2_may_2019#five for further details. This is a simple solution that supports the recommendation made within the ABC response to understand this housing type.

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Action for Balanced Communities 

RESPONSE TO LOCAL PLAN REVIEW CONSULTATIONDRAFT POLICIES H1 TO H7

Action for Balanced Communities Bristol (ABC) is a constituted partnership of residents, community and amenity groups across the city. Our current member groups are: Chandos Neighbourhood Association;  Clifton Down Community Association; Clifton & Hotwells Improvement Society; Hampton Park and Cotham Hill Community Group; Highbury Residents Association; High Kingsdown Residents Association; Hotwells and Cliftonwood Community Association; Kingsdown Conservation Group; Oakfield Residents Association; The Panoramic Management Bristol Limited; Park Row Management Limited; Redland & Cotham Amenity Society; Richmond Area Residents Association; Totterdown Residents Environmental and Social Action community interest company.

Our comments below relate to our primary objective of creating and maintaining balanced communities, specifically in relation to housing provision.
Draft Policy H1: Delivery of new homes
ABC appreciates that the delivery of new homes to meet the Joint Spatial Plan commitments is the key driver and focus of the current Local Plan Review. We are concerned, however, that this could be seen as taking precedence over other development priorities, such employment, transport, education, health and wellbeing, which are equally important to Bristol’s citizens.
Target densities are required, but should not be pursued without consideration of whether these developments will create well balanced and supported communities. Developers should be required to demonstrate that the highdensity housing schemes they propose follow proven successful models, before being permitted to embark on developments that fail to support the communities they house.
Draft Policy H2: Preventing the loss of residential accommodation
ABC supports this policy but would urge the council to consider how it might be strengthened to counter the current and future threat of C3 dwellings being used as shortterm lets (less than 6 months tenure), rather than permanent homes. Whilst there is currently no national planning policy on this type of use, a point might be included along the lines of subject to any future national policy guidelines, conversion of permanent homes to shortlet accommodation will be controlled where this would lead to a significant loss of permanent homes.
Draft Policy H3: Making the best use of site allocations
ABC supports this draft policy in principle, but in regard to capacity and density the points we  have made under H1 above would equally apply. Housing alone does not make viable communities.
Draft Policy H4: Housing type and mix
ABC welcomes this policy, in that it reintroduces the principle of community balance currently contained in policy BCS18. We would like to see the statement in introductory para 7.18 a focus on the provision of homes intended for permanent occupation within Use Class C3 incorporated in the policy text, rather than confined to the explanation. This would be important in resisting short let conversions (see comments on H2 above).
Draft Policy H5: Selfbuild and community-led housing
ABC welcomes this policy and would like to see the council providing active encouragement to communities, builders and landowners, in cooperation with the Right to Build Initiative.
Draft Policy H6: Homes in multiple occupation and other shared housing
ABC welcomes the reintroduction of points contained within existing policy DM2, but regrets that it perpetuates the inherent flaws in the current policy, which has proved remarkably difficult to apply in practice. The points under (i) regarding harm to amenity and character and noise and disturbance have proved very difficult to demonstrate in advance of a development or intensification, as has exacerbation of harmful conditions under’(ii).
It is noted that H6 differs significantly from DM2 in that it does not encompass residential subdivisions and we would like to see this reinstated. It is an important safeguard, not only against the loss of family houses, but also against developments of multiple smaller (12 bed) units that, in terms of concentration, may be as damaging as HMOs, but do not qualify as such.
We appreciate the inclusion under (ii) of the phrase taking into account proximity to existing specialist student accommodation within a locality, but make the point that a robust mechanism will be needed to ensure that this happens.
The introduction of the criterion that would not allow a property to be sandwiched between two HMOs  (ii,b) is welcome, and should be part of a fully developed mechanism for delivering the policy.
We would like to see para. 7.28 amended to read: This policy offers an approach to addressing the impacts and issues of these forms of accommodation. It aims to ensure that development preserves the residential amenity and character of an area and that harmful concentrations are not created or exacerbated and that, wherever possible, they are redressed. This would tie in with the text of policy H4, regarding the need to redress any harmful housing imbalance that exists in the area.
ABC welcomes the introduction of a threshold policy for HMOs. Whilst we agree that 10% makes sense in most areas, it might usefully be lower in others. Given the high occupancy rates of typical HMOs, 10% of housing stock in fact equates to up to 25% of the local population. The council might want to consider wording that enables other thresholds to be applied over time or in different areas.
Draft Policy H6: explanations
Paras 7.337.35 
We do not support the definition of HMOs being restricted to premises that meet the planning class use definition for small or large HMOs, residential institutions or hostels. As pointed out in comments above,  his definition does not capture the increasingly large number of smaller units that are occupied in much the same way as student HMOs, notably by a young, transient population, rather than as permanent homes. We strongly believe that any evidence base on which planning or appeal decisions are taken should include counciltax exempt student properties, whether or not they are HMOs. Other cities (e.g. York, Bath) do include this category.
Paras 7.337.35
Most threshold policies determine the defined area at two levels. A street level test is applied to protect adjacent and nearby properties. A neighbourhood level test is also applied, usually based on census output areas, to control harm to community balance, neighbourhood character, local economy, and residential amenity.
The application of a street level test alone is inadequate. Even in a neighbourhood where HMOs and other shared or student accommodation exceed 10% of housing stock as a whole, the distribution is typically uneven. There may be streets where there are no HMOs at all. If new development is permitted in those streets, the average across the whole neighbourhood will rise even higher.
It is also, of course, unlikely that the 100metre criterion would capture any purpose-built student accommodation that might lie just around the corner. Although the policy states that this will be taken into consideration, no mechanism for doing so is proposed. Councils that adopt threshold formulae usually count six bedspaces in PBSA as equivalent to one HMO.
In summary, for a threshold policy to work effectively, it will need to include the following elements.
The evidence base must be as inclusive as possible, and should certainly include all properties exempted from council tax as being entirely occupied by student tenants.
The threshold test must be applied at BOTH street and neighbourhood levels – and a presumption of refusal should be triggered if EITHER of those thresholds is breached.
The threshold calculations must take account of purposebuilt student accommodation within the defined areas at both levels.
In general, the detailed delivery mechanisms for any threshold policy are included in an accompanying Supplementary Planning Document. SPDs can go into more detail and can be revised and adapted more easily to changing circumstances or lessons learnt from applying the policies in practice. We would recommend that the core policy is confined to establishing the principle, and that all matters relating to its application should be fully covered in the SPD.
Draft Policy H7: Managing the development of purposebuilt student accommodation
ABC supports the development of new purposebuilt student accommodation provided that it reduces pressure on homes for other sections of the community and has no adverse impacts on existing residential areas.
Our concern is the dependence of policy H7 on student growth projections provided by the University of Bristol. The city must be wary of accepting what the university says, as there is no guarantee that it will adhere to its stated policy of directing new enrolments toward MA and international students who prefer purposebuilt accommodation. The city and its communities have already had their fingers burnt by adopting the previous UoB Masterplan, made in 2006, as a Supplementary Planning Document. That Masterplan predicted virtually zero undergraduate growth. When the government removed caps on enrolments, the business model changed to one of escalating undergraduate growth and the council was left with the present inadequate policies.
There is nothing to prevent a similar situation arising in the future. The higher education sector is potentially volatile and susceptible to economic, legislative or social change. Draft policy H7 should be sufficiently flexible and robust to accommodate future changes in UoB’s business model or strategy. Under the current forward scenario, the student population would remain at about 10% of the city’s total. The council should be able to exercise some kind of planning control over university expansion if there are indications at any point in the future that this figure is likely to change significantly.
ABC supports the policy of limiting bedspace allocations by defined area. We note that the allocations for specific locations exceed the stated additional 6,400 bedspaces required for UoB’s strategic plan. This creates the potential for over 1000 surplus bedspaces, in defined areas alone. There is a case to be made for limiting speculative development by a presumption of refusal if it can be shown that it would result in overcapacity. Any additional bedspaces could, of course, be offered to students who would otherwise live in HMOs, thus releasing muchneeded housing back to use as permanent homes. However, many returning students in their second and third years prefer HMOs and may not be persuaded to continue living in purpose built accommodation after their first year.
Consideration should also be given to the possibility of a more general downturn in demand for purpose built accommodation, and consequent oversupply. It is essential therefore that all new buildings be designed for future flexibility so they can be converted to other forms of housing if required, and this should be a key element in the Policy.