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The approval of planning restrictions for small HMOs in the London Borough of Bromley

Bromley Council has recently made two Article 4 directions that impact the creation of small HMOs in the borough. These directions mean that planning permission has to be sought to convert single dwellings to small HMOs within the specified areas. One of the directions came into immediate effect on 1st September 2021 for properties in the wards of Biggin Hill and Darwin. The non-immediate Article 4 direction applies to the rest of the borough and will come into force on 1st September 2022.

Whilst it’s not unusual for local councils to vote in favour of these directions when areas are adversely affected by HMOs, planning officers had already provided a report stating that any negative issues caused by HMO developments in the borough were minimal. Here, we’ll explain why these decisions were made and why they’ve caught property investors unawares.

What is an HMO?

A house in multiple occupation (HMO) is a property that’s inhabited by three or more unrelated residents. Each resident has a bedroom while the kitchen and bathroom are shared.A small HMO (property use class C4) is a property that’s shared by three to six people.

What is an Article 4 direction?

Usually, if you want to change the use of a single dwelling (property use class C3) to a small HMO (class C4), you don’t need planning permission. However, under Article 4 of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015, your local planning authority can overturn this permitted development right. This means they can insist that planning permission is granted before a C4 HMO is created. Larger HMOs have a different class of property use so Article 4 directions don’t apply to them.

Bromley Council’s surprising implementation of two Article 4 directions

In the London Borough of Bromley, local residents petitioned the council to invoke an Article 4 direction. They were concerned that a rental company had been buying numerous properties in the same streets and converting them into multiple HMOs. This, in turn, would put a strain on the already limited parking available as well as the local health facilities and educational institutions. The residents also believed that traffic congestion would increase due to the limited public transport.

Housing and planning officers compiled a report noting the number and sizes of HMOs in the borough and their effects on the local areas. They advised that there were minimum negative impacts caused by the HMOs and, on the contrary, they noted how they addressed the need for housing. Rather than justifying the implementation of an Article 4 direction, the officers confirmed the opposite — that there was little justification to remove the permitted development right to convert a C3 property into a C4 HMO within the borough.

It came as a surprise then that Bromley Council voted in the two Article 4 directions despite the findings detailed in the report. As well as that, the proceedings were done quietly without updates being issued on the council’s website and no press release has been made to confirm the changes.

The immediate Article 4 direction

Local councillors disagreed with the report findings for the wards of Biggin Hill and Darwin. They stated that there was already a high concentration of HMOs and had concerns about the types of residents living in them as well as the lack of public transport. For these two areas, an immediate Article 4 direction was made on 1st September 2021. This removed the permitted development rights for single dwellings to be converted into small HMOs. As the decision came into effect immediately, compensation may have to be paid to developers with projects that will be affected by this.

The non-immediate Article 4 direction

For the rest of the borough, a non-immediate Article 4 direction has been made, which will come into force on 1st September 2022. From this date, C4 HMOs will not be able to be created unless the developer obtains planning permission first.

Buying a property in an Article 4 area

Small HMOs are good investments but it’s essential to check whether the area you’re looking to buy in falls under an Article 4 direction. Either check the website belonging to the local authority or speak with your mortgage broker in Kent, London or Edinburgh to find out.

If you’ve found a property you want to buy in an Article 4 area, check what your chances would be for a successful planning permission application. Find similar conversions and take a look at the planning records, submit a pre-planning enquiry or get in touch with a local planning consultant for advice. Also, check the density of HMOs in the streets you’re interested in as thresholds are set for each area. If the density is already high, your application will likely be refused. Alternatively, consider buying an existing small HMO. As long as you’re not going to change its class, you just need to apply to have the HMO licence changed into your name without worrying about planning permission.

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