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Council ordered to pay costs as judge refuses review on planning decision for HMO in Swansea

SWANSEA Council has failed to persuade a judge to review a planning decision about a house of multiple occupation (HMO), and must pay costs.

Council chiefs disagreed with an appeal ruling by a Welsh Government-appointed planning inspector, who said a house in Mount Pleasant could be converted into a seven-bedroom HMO.

The authority applied for a judicial review of the decision in the courts but the case was not allowed to proceed to a full hearing.

The council must pay £2,807 costs to the Welsh Government.

The saga began last February when Luke Spikes applied to convert the end-of-terrace house on Montpelier Terrace, which had been sub-divided into three flats, into a high-quality HMO aimed at young professionals.

It prompted a petition of objection signed by 37 people, who said they were were worried about a “harmful” concentration of HMOs in the area.

The application was turned down by Swansea Council, which said it would result in the neighbouring house being “sandwiched” by HMOs either side, leading to an over-intensification of HMOs.

This sandwich criteria is part of a new planning policy in Swansea, which seeks to curb the spread of HMOs – particularly in the Uplands ward, which includes Montpelier Terrace.

Mr Spikes appealed the decision, contending that people living in the neighbouring house did not object to the proposed HMO conversion.

He also argued there were exceptional circumstances, including that the house had been marketed unsuccessfully for more than six months, which he claimed helped make his application exempt from the HMO policy.

The council contended that the neighbouring house would be negatively impacted by having an HMO either side, and said Mr Spikes’ purchase of the property was evidence that it was viable as a residential home.

Planning inspector Ceri Davies ruled in favour of Mr Spikes, saying that although the application fell foul of sandwiching, he did not agree with the council’s assertion about Mr Spikes’ purchase.

Mr Davies also said lot of work would be needed to make the house suitable for residential use.

His appeal decision said: “The alternative of allowing the building to be empty will result in a further deterioration of the building’s physical condition to the detriment of the character and appearance of the surrounding area.

“I consider there are exceptional circumstances and overriding considerations in this instance that demonstrably outweigh any concerns regarding harmful concentration or intensification of HMOs at this location.”

Uplands councillor Peter May urged the council to make its HMO policy more robust when it was next reviewed.

Cllr May said there were two HMO applications in Uplands currently where the applicants said they had tried unsuccessfully to market the property for six months, which is one of the exemption criteria.

“Developers can probably manage a property being empty for six months,” said Cllr May. “It should be two years.”

Councillor David Hopkins, cabinet member for delivery and performance, said he felt the council had one of the strongest policies on HMOs in Wales.

“I don’t believe the policy is at fault,” he said.

Cllr Hopkins said it had been “right and proper” to challenge the inspector’s decision.

And he disagreed with Cllr May’s two-year suggestion.

“Living next to an empty house for two years could cause damage – it would be difficult,” he said.

The end-of-terrace property on Montpelier Terrace, Swansea, which will be turned into an HMO

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