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'Studentification' in Bournbrook

I regularly receive contact from constituents with concerns about a variety of, unfortunately negative, issues in the Bournbrook area, mostly connected with student housing.

For several years now, I have been calling for a change in the refuse collection day in Bournbrook from a Monday.  As long-term residents will know, students frequently go home of a weekend and sadly have a tendency to leave their refuse sacks out for collection before they go.  Aside from the eyesore these represent, they are exposed to the elements and can and do encourage vermin.  Birmingham City Council has accepted the need for improvements with the refuse management in this area and even conceded that a change of collection day would resolve the problem.  However, they have taken the alternative approach of providing communal wheelie bins and extra-clean-up operations.  I would welcome feedback on how this is working out.

Residents living in the Bournbrook area will have noticed an increase in the number of applications for extensions and loft conversions.  These all seem to be from landlords wanting to increase the number of students in HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) in order to maximise their profits.  As I am formally notified of such applications, I make it my policy to always object on the basis that they would have an adverse effect on an area already blighted by the lack of a stable population.   I consider that the increase in the density of the student population puts further pressure on local services: refuse collection, car parking etc and does nothing to assist in the objective of creating a sustainable community.

Despite my objections, the Council is routinely approving these applications and would probably argue that, if the applications comply with normal planning guidelines that would apply to family housing, they have to approve them.   This would not be the case if the Council were to adopt specific planning policy guidance for Bournbrook imposing an area of restraint on loft and other extensions.   I will continue to press them on this but would welcome your comments of support or otherwise.

A related issue is that of licensing for HMOs.  Since April 2006, it has been compulsory for a limited number of HMOs (properties with 3 or more stories occupied by 5 or more people) to be licensed.  Landlords will have to prove that their property is well-managed and in a good, safe condition before they can get a licence or the Council could take over management of the property.  Unfortunately, as of January 2007, the Council had only received 800 license applications when they estimate around 3000 properties City-wide require HMO licenses.

A further problem and one I was unfortunately unable to convince the Government to address within the legislation, is that a great many HMOs are smaller than 3 stories or have fewer than 5 occupants.  Although these smaller properties may be subject to a discretionary licensing scheme, it seems the Council are still resisting implementing this whilst they concentrate their efforts on the mandatory scheme.

Another long-running concern is the large number of letting boards used by local agents to advertise their vacancies.  Whilst it is legitimate for them to advertise in this fashion as a permitted development right, there is a suspicion that their signs are left in place on the front of properties for longer than is permitted, after the property is let.  I have been pressing the Council to take some action to deal with this issue and it seems they are now considering several possible approaches.  In the short term, enforcement action will be taken against agents who leave letting boards up longer than allowed and, in the longer term, the Council intend to apply to the Secretary of State to remove permitted development rights (meaning agents would need to apply for planning permission to erect letting boards).

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