Back in October 2015, we wrote an article about the Welsh Government’s proposals to introduce a new C4 planning classification. From 25th February 2016, this new classification will come into force as a result of The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2016 being passed – which is extremely quick given the initial consultation ended just four months ago.
This means that the C3 planning classification – which previously covered up to six tenants – now covers up to just two tenants or one single household. Additionally, households are now much more accurately defined and based on that of the 2004 Housing Act, which is used for HMO licensing.
The new C4 classification covers 3-6 tenants, while 7+ will still be HMO sui generis.
Whilst the classes of use above apply to the whole of Wales, the remainder of this article refers specifically to Cardiff.
The changes mean that property owners wanting to ‘move up’ a class, e.g. from C3 (max of 2 sharers) to C4 (3-6 sharers), will need to apply for Change of Use to do so – costing £380 – but may be refused due to a new Local Development Plan that was recently approved by cabinet and – more controversially – the Council’s informal adoption of density calculations listed in a yet-to-be-released consultation document for new Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG).
The SPG is set to provide more information and guidance on developing HMOs and is likely to contain density calculations which will dictate whether Change of Use applications are successful or not. If the calculations work as we expect, they will look at how many HMOs (properties with three or more bedrooms) are within 50m of the property for which Change of Use is being sought, and if the resultant density of HMOs in the area is over a specific threshold, the application will be refused. If other cities are anything to go by, the threshold will be a maximum of 15-25% of HMOs in the given area, meaning pretty much every application in Cathays, plus large parts of Roath, will be refused.
As mentioned, at the time of writing this article the SPG is not yet available to read, and a Freedom of Information Request was rejected on the basis it "was not in the public interest" to release it at this point in time. However, Cardiff Council are already refusing landlords’ Change of Use applications based on the above density calculations, so to claim the information is not in the public interest is somewhat mystifying. We also question the Council’s legal right to refuse applications based on guidance that hasn’t yet been approved or released, particularly as the decisions aren’t being made in line with their current planning policies, which have no reference to density of HMOs.
In summary, the Council’s current stance is making it nearly impossible for landlords to gain Change of Use approvals from C3 (max of 2 sharers) to a HMO (whether that be the new C4 class for up to 6 sharers or a 7+ sharer sui generis HMO) in high density student areas. They are currently refusing every such application, meaning each one needs to be appealed.
Planning policies do, of course, need updating, and we welcome consultations being released to the public. However, one of the purposes of producing this article is to make landlords, investors and property developers aware of unreleased planning policy being applied to new applications.
We've spoken to many clients who have made applications recently and they were completely unaware of these changes due to the Council’s silence. Some investors – who contribute hugely towards high quality housing stock for students in Cardiff – will no doubt remain unaware of these changes unless it becomes public knowledge soon, and may be left in a situation whereby they can't obtain Change of Use on their properties. Equally, homeowners who wish to sell their properties in Cathays and Roath will undoubtedly be forced to sell at prices lower than what has been achieved on the same street in recent years.
The SPG will eventually be released to the public – possibly in the Spring – at which point we’ll have more information. In the meantime, prospective buyers and landlords looking to redevelop a property need to be aware that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to gain Change of Use to anything larger than two bedrooms.
This article isn't designed to be planning advice. Instead, it’s based on the experiences of our clients who have recently submitted planning applications and made subsequent appeals. Each situation will be different, and it’s important to take professional advice if these changes affect you.
If you have any questions or queries relating to this article, or if you’re submitting a Change of Use application in the near future, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact John Pinn via firstname.lastname@example.org.