Students hope to circumvent ban on further HMOs in St Andrews

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A survey of students renting private accommodation in the town by the University Students Association, with the University’s support, claims to show that there are 145 ‘wasted’ rooms in St Andrews – either a locked bedroom or what was characterised as an underutilised room, such as a living room, study, spare room or storage room, which could be converted into a bedroom.

Their survey results were submitted to Fife Housing Services just as it was preparing its report to the housing committee following the HMO consultation. Even though the survey was carried out by an ‘interested party’ that is opposed to any cap on HMOs, provided little data and had not been independently validated, Housing Services has incorporated the results into its report and has recommended that properties with locked or ‘underutilised’ rooms should be exempt from any cap on numbers.

As reported previously, the Council’s consultation showed the overwhelming preference of residents was for the 0% increase in HMOs option and Housing Services recommendation to the housing committee, which meets on Thursday (11th), is that an overprovision policy be introduced allowing no increase in HMOs.

Commenting on the student survey and Housing Services recommendation that properties with ‘wasted’ rooms should be exempt from any cap, David Middleton, chair of the Confederation of St Andrews Resident’s Associations, said:

“No figures are given for the number of these homes in the Conservation Area, the only area where policy prevents more HMOs. Why is this important figure not provided? – the data would surely record this. This is the critical question which remains unanswered in the report.

Confusing locked bedrooms with underutilised rooms seems to deliberately obscure the facts and inflate the size of the numbers recorded. The highest concentrations of alleged locked bedrooms is outside the Central Conservation Area (6 in one postcode) – which seems to be new build flats in the former New Park School site, where there is no policy prohibition on HMOs”.

“The subsequent question about underused rooms is imprecise and is not relevant to the claims which have been made about locked bedrooms. While it is possible to speculate that “underutilised rooms” could be converted to bedrooms, it is likely that these serve some purpose at present and may be the only area for social contact between residents, other than the kitchen. Many such rooms could conceivably become bedrooms, but would the Council really want, for instance, to dispense with the space available for social contact between residents”?

“The  main issue arising from this report is that it does not provide verifiable evidence for its findings, has not been available to the public during the consultation, and has serious omissions and conflates the issue of locked bedrooms with underutilised rooms  – which may have, and in premises outside the conservation area, will have  numerous reasons, other than the current HMO policy for remaining empty”.

“With these serious flaws, the report is not an adequate or reliable basis for policy decision making and the proposal which arises from it to allow such premises to be eligible for an HMO licence should be withdrawn from the policy proposal, or at the very least, deferred for further examination, without affecting the timetable for implementation of the recommended policy noted in the Committee report”.

Click here for Community and Housing Services Committee’s agenda and supporting papers, including Hosing Services report, for its meeting on the 11th April.

St Andrews QV (Qui Vive) is an independent not-for-profit, non-political platform for news and debates about issues that are important to the Town. It exists to hold decision makers and public services to account while its editorial policy is to accommodate all shades of opinion from all parts of the community, prioritising evidence-based arguments. St Andrews QV is a member of the Independent Community News Network and is committed to the Community Journalism Charter

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