Birmingham MP, Steve McCabe, has called for a moratorium on the conversion of family homes to Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in his Selly Oak constituency following further safety concerns raised by the Grenfell Tower fire.
Changes to planning laws, under Permitted Development rules, mean that many small building developments no longer require planning permission. This was originally intended to let people add a conservatory, kitchen extension or additional bedroom without cumbersome bureaucracy but the change in the law has been ruthlessly exploited by some rogue landlords and developers seeking to increase the rent take from an increased number of tenants. Selly Oak has been plagued by unwelcome and, in some cases, unlawful developments which have seen whole areas of family homes converted to HMOs. Partitions are often used to divide existing rooms while additional rooms and storeys are bolted on, often taking up existing back gardens and depriving neighbours of light and privacy.
Steve has been trying to draw attention to this issue in Parliament and last year introduced his Protection of Family Homes (Enforcement & Permitted Development) Bill in an attempt to give local councils new powers to take tougher enforcement action against those flouting the planning laws. Despite having cross party support, the Bill was blocked by Community and Local Government minister Marcus Jones (Conservative, Nuneaton) who was put up by the government to ‘talk it out’, a device where ministers talk for as long as possible against the clock until the Bill runs out of time.
However Steve McCabe has now called on the government to think again in view of demands for an urgent review of Building Regulations following the Grenfell Tower fire.
“I’ve been very worried about some of these extensions for some time. In one case a developer severely damaged the property next door; in another a gas flue was dismantled and nearly poisoned an elderly couple. One of the things that has become clear as a result of the Grenfell Tower disaster is that our Building Regulations are not sufficiently clear and we can’t be certain about the safety of some of this work. Currently there is no independent inspection of the completed works.
“The government says it will take action in the public sphere but I’m worried that there may be a whole set of other issues with private conversions. The cavalier attitude of some developers suggests it’s all about packing people in like sardines so as to maximise the rent take. I’ve tried on several occasions to get this government to listen to my concerns, most recently through my Protection of Family Homes Bill. Now I’m calling for a moratorium on these conversions until the rules are much clearer and we can be sure that these conversions are safe. We can’t afford to wait until something awful happens.”