The planning moratorium on new Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), currently in place in the St Andrews Conservation Area (the town centre), has been prolonged owing to a delay in assessing its effect.
The suspension was first approved in 2011 as part of an attempt to tackle the town’s housing problem, with a review expected to take place two years later in 2013.
However, a lack of empirical evidence left Fife Council officers unable to conclude exactly what impact the moratorium had had upon the town.
The ban was consequently extended until June 2016 in order to allow more time to review its impact. Despite this, councillors have recently heard that the inquiry yet remains unfinished.
In their “Review of Planning Guidance”, published online, Robin Presswood (Head of Economy, Planning and Employability Services) and John Mills (Head of Housing Services), stated that a large factor contributing to this delay was the need to confirm availability of funding and to appoint a consultant to the inquiry.
As such, an extension of one year has been granted by the Council, thus prolonging the moratorium until June 2017. At this time, an extensive review of the situation is to be conducted, which will also recommend policy interventions where necessary.
The inquiry will also take account of recent legislative and economic changes affecting the housing markets.
In response to this second setback, the North East Fife Area Committee expressed fears of a HMO “drift” occurring.
In addition to this, various St Andrews residents have recently voiced fears that the suspension on HMOs in the town centre has simply resulted in the creation of HMOs elsewhere in the town, such as Lamond Drive.
Councillor Brian Thomson is of this opinion, considering the lack of evidence regarding the effect of the moratorium “disappointing”, but believing “it has possibly resulted in an increased number of HMOs in other areas of town particularly in areas that used to provide affordable housing to both rent and buy. Overall he blames “the large number of houses that are bought up by private landlords, to be used as HMOs” as one of the main causes for the lack of affordable housing in the town for both local St Andrews residents and students.
Commending the University’s existing efforts to provide accommodation for students, as well as praising the University’s recent pledge to provide an additional 900 bed spaces in the near future, he said: “The University already provides more accommodation per head of population than any other university in Scotland.”
Charlotte Andrew, Association President-elect, who made fighting the HMO ban a key part of her platform during this year’s Union elections, spoke to The Saint about the delay.
“A delay in a potential lifting of the ban, if that were to eventually happen, is definitely regrettable and means it will take longer for students and permanent residents to benefit from a wider housing market. But it does help us to have factual evidence gathered by a third party to prove that the HMO ban is damaging to everyone in St Andrews in order to convince Fife Council to lift the ban.”
On whether she will be able to fulfill her pledge, Ms Andrew said that she was confident she would still be able to carry out her promise.
“Although frustrating, this development allows more time to prepare to present our case to Fife Council, to build working relationships with councilors [sic] and look into the various reasons for the introduction of the HMO ban in 2011,” she continued.
“A review of the effect of the HMO ban is crucial to challenging the ban, so we do need to wait for that information to be gathered to make a more formal presentation of our argument.”