The most obvious effect of Britain’s housing crisis is that homes are becoming more unaffordable both to buy and rent, writes Ipswich Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
But another effect is less obvious and smaller in scale. Developers are buying modest three-bedroom houses in quiet Ipswich streets and extending them by creating dormer extensions on the back of the houses. This allows them to maximise profits by renting the houses to up to 6 people.
Worried residents first alerted the Council to this problem and our enforcement officers have been involved since then.
What is alarming is that under current national rules most of these changes do not need planning permission – they are what is called “permitted development” works.
The last Labour government introduced laws which meant that if an owner wanted to create a “house of multiple occupation” planning permission would be needed. However the Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition Government quickly changed this so that planning permission was not required unless the local authority had put in place something called an Article 4 Direction.
Council officers have investigated over 20 sites across Ipswich over recent months. They check if the building works need planning permission, and whether they are built to building regulation standards – although if the developer has employed a private inspector, even that can be difficult to check.
On two sites we have had to call in the Health and Safety Executive who ordered work to stop altogether.
This is becoming such a problem that we’ve had to begin the work to get an Article 4 Direction in place. Unfortunately it will take about 12 months – because developers can claim compensation from the council if they say we have brought in new rules too quickly and this has cost them money.
Local councillors have been closely involved and MP Sandy Martin has asked questions in the House of Commons. He wants to know when proper regulations will be brought back in so local authorities can control these building works.
We know that homes are important, and that many people live in shared accommodation.
But we also know that proper regulation is just as important – we have the Grenfell tragedy to show us that.