Belfast HMO Subject Plan 2015
Designation HMO 2
During the public consultation process many local residents voiced concern at the concentration of HMOs in certain locations and the impact that such properties were having on these areas. However, many also acknowledged the positive impact HMOs could bring to an area in terms of regeneration, not only for the physical housing stock but also in consolidating the viability of local businesses and services such as shopping.
All agreed there was a need to achieve a balance between HMOs and traditional residential accommodation. The general consensus was that the upper limit for conversion to multiple occupation should be 30%. This level of multiple occupation could potentially assist regeneration but at the same time would not necessarily result in the local community becoming imbalanced. In situations where Local Planning Authorities in Great Britain have introduced capping, 30% would generally appear to be the upper limit.
The Department has identified 22 areas in Belfast City Council area where HMOs are concentrated. These areas are designated as HMO Policy Areas. The HMO Policy Areas are outlined on the relevant maps.
In each of the 22 HMO Policy Areas the number of HMOs exceeds 30% of all the dwelling units. Consequently, no further HMO development will be permitted within the HMO Policy Areas until such times as the proportion of HMOs falls below 30% of all dwelling units in a Policy Area.
Planning Service, in conjunction with the NIHE, will maintain a database of HMOs which will monitor the number of HMOs in each Policy Area. In circumstances where an applicant disagrees with Planning Service’s assessment on the number of HMOs in a given area or considers that the property was already an HMO at November 2004 when the Planning (Use Classes) Order (Northern Ireland) 2004 was introduced, then the applicant will be afforded an opportunity to provide evidence and demonstrate otherwise. The number of HMOs within each Policy Area is contained in Appendix 3.
In circumstances where planning permission is dependant upon a change of use of another property away from HMO, then a legally binding agreement may be necessary.
The level of multiple occupation within an area, whether designated or not, will be measured by:
- the number of HMOs recorded by the NIHE at November 2004; plus
- the number of HMO development units subsequently approved by the Department; plus
- the number of extant permissions for HMO development units.
The total number of dwelling units in a Policy Area will be measured by Ordnance Survey’s Pointer database. The Pointer database includes all dwellings with an address in Northern Ireland. This assessment will be undertaken across the individual Policy Area and not on a street by street basis.
A breach of the 30% limit on further HMO development for existing HMOs may be acceptable providing it does not give rise to intensification including an increase in the number of bedrooms. For example, a proposal to convert an existing eight bedroom HMO to two four bedroom HMO flats may be acceptable, providing there is no increase in the number of occupants.
The process for the identification of HMO Policy Area designations is based on mapping the NIHE’s HMO data. This has provided a visual highlight of areas where HMOs are concentrated. Subsequently, plotting all dwellings in Belfast using Ordnance Survey’s Pointer data, and overlaying it with the NIHE’s HMO database, has allowed HMO density to be calculated on a Policy Area basis.
The issues surrounding HMOs, including their detrimental impacts, have been greater in parts of South Belfast than in any other part of the city. This area presents a significant challenge not only to Planning Service but also to developers, landlords, students, local residents, the academic institutions and the various agencies that provide services in the area. This Subject Plan will not, in itself, resolve all these issues. Continuing joint working with other parties will be imperative if the issues are to be fully addressed