At the Community and Housing Services committee meeting today (Thursday) councillors unanimously agreed an overprovision policy to allow no further HMOs in St Andrews, with the decision to take immediate effect. The Committee accepted the main recommendations of Housing Services officials but removed a possible exemption from the ban which would have allowed properties with locked bedrooms or ‘underutilised’ rooms to be granted a licence (click here for details). The policy will be reviewed within three years (i.e before the next round of local elections).
Committee member Councillor Linda Holt was sharply critical of the survey that the University and Students Association had undertaken regarding locked and ‘underutilised’ bedrooms. In response to her questions about its origins and methodology, John Mills, Head of Housing Services, said that it had been sent to him by the University’s Proctor just as the report to Committee was being put together. There had been no time to verify its accuracy and a there had been no response to his request for a meeting with the Proctor.
Councillor Brian Thomson, who addressed the committee, commented afterwards “I’m pleased that the HMO overprovision policy – which was backed by the vast majority of residents – has now been approved, and that the Committee agreed with my suggestions that the proposed exception relating to the supposed rooms that are locked or underused be removed, and the boundary of the area covered by the policy be extended to include developments proposed in FIFEplan.
“The number of HMO properties in St Andrews has been further exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing in the town, by reducing the ability of many families to purchase or rent open market family housing, and significantly threatening the viability of St Andrews continuing to be a sustainable, mixed community.
“Whilst the issue of locked and underused rooms may warrant further discussion, the research that has been carried out was not robust enough to be the basis for an exception to the policy, and councillors and residents had not had an opportunity to scrutinise it”.
“The policy may restrict choice for students but there is not currently a shortage of student accommodation in the town, and the University is to be commended on progressing its development programme to provide additional bed spaces”.
Councillor Jane Ann Liston, who has consistently opposed any cap on HMO numbers, said “The proposed ban on new HMOs is unlikely to result in lots of homes for low and middle income households. Prices rose throughout the 8-year moratorium thanks to the buoyant St Andrews property market, suggesting that any houses not used for student rental are likely to become second or holiday homes, or go to better-off retired people, rather than households of modest means”.
“There is evidence that HMOs have spread out into the residential areas and also that more 2-bedroom properties are appearing, aimed at the student market”.
“Refusing to exempt flats under-occupied by just 2 students from the HMO ban is a missed opportunity to potentially accommodate at least 150 more students into existing student properties. While some of these landlords may not want to house extra tenants, forbidding any to become HMOs means that none will”.
“Rather than free up houses for general occupancy, this policy is liable to spread the student population over more houses, as there is apparently no shortage of those able to pay higher rents. All in all, it seems unlikely that there will be a surge in houses available for lower and middle income households”.
A spokesman for the university said: “We are committed to playing our part in sustaining a balanced and fair community in St Andrews, but it is very doubtful that an HMO cap would achieve that.”
Click here to read the Confederation of St Andrews Resident’s Associations views on the housing committee’s decision.