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First victory for Derby woman fighting for better streets

today21 September 2022 2

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A woman upset at the number of bedsits allowed to be built in the city has claimed an initial victory in her campaign to improve Derby’s streets. A review into troublesome homes in Derby and the city’s own planning laws is to take place following a petition of more than 1,000 signatures calling for change.

Derby City Council says it will investigate the number of shared accommodation homes, also known as HMOs (House in Multiple Occupation), in the Arboretum ward to see if such homes, largely bedsit-style accommodation, are creating problems on the streets. Construction worker and campaigner Sassi Stark says this action “could potentially save the city”.

Earlier this year Arboretum resident Miss Stark launched a campaign vowing to improve the appearance of Derby streets such as Hartington Street – situated in Arboretum ward – which she believes are run down mainly because too many HMOs are being allowed in the area under existing planning laws.

Currently anyone who wants to convert a house into accommodation for six or more people needs planning permission, but this isn’t the case where the house will have fewer residents. To change this, the city council would need to apply for an Article 4 Direction under the Town and Country Planning act, which can only be granted if a Government Secretary of State is satisfied there is evidence that smaller HMOs are causing harm.

Miss Stark, 29, has been calling on the council to apply for Article 4 direction in order to give the council more power to tackle problems caused in the Arboretum ward and protect city streets. She challenged leading councillors face to face at a council meeting in the summer and her online petition on the change.org website has been signed by 1,041 people so far at time of writing.

The council now says it will review Arboretum ward as a “test area” to see where shared properties are concentrated and whether they are creating problems such as parking, anti-social behaviour and the deterioration of buildings. Exact streets to be reviewed have not been named yet. The review is expected to take several months to provide the necessary evidence. Currently houses outside the Arboretum ward will not be part of the review.

Councillor Steve Hassall, cabinet member for strategic planning, said: “Concentrations of Houses in Multiple Occupation have provoked a wider response from the local residents unhappy about changes in their area. In recognition of this, and in conjunction with the Chair and Vice Chair of Planning Committee, as a cross party initiative, I’ve agreed that Arboretum ward will be the focus of a more in depth study with a view to seeking further planning controls.

“This will provide the starting point to more accurately understand the elements attributed to this growing housing sector. However, we also have to be aware that there are other factors at play. We have landlords who keep their properties in excellent order, whereas other properties are poorly maintained, so we are actively looking at what can be done to raise standards in the HMO sector.”

Miss Stark previously cited Hartington Street as an example where major improvements are needed in terms of its appearance and where she feels landlords should be held to account over the state of properties. She told councillors that Hartington Street “does not look like a heritage area” despite it being within the Arboretum Conservation Area.

Speaking after the council announced a review, Miss Stark said: “It is fantastic that the council are finally looking at gathering evidence to implement the Article 4 Direction that would require these HMO developments to have planning permission. These developments cause all sorts of problems in local neighbourhoods, many of which stem from the transient populations that tend to live in these developments.

“Our city continues to attract a lot of property investors, which, although it’s fantastic that people want to invest in Derby, can price out locals and some can be unethical landlords who do not know or really care about the communities they are investing in. Derby is behind in getting Article 4 direction put into place, and I really hope we can get it into place before there is too much more erosion in our communities.

“I’m over the moon that we have got this far, and I hope the council does pull through on this. This is not a problem for a singular area, it is city-wide. My hope is that the council does implement Article 4 across the whole city.”

News of the council’s review comes a day before a scheduled full council meeting (Wednesday, September 21) in which the matter was to be debated. Alvaston councillor Alan Graves is to propose a motion calling for new planning laws to protect his ward from similar problems, believed to be caused by HMOs.

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