How Liverpool City Council is changing its’ approach to flats and HMOs

This will be of interest to those who invest in property, to turn it into a house in multiple occupation (HMO), and or to sub-divide it into flats, whether that be from existing houses, pubs, offices or other commercial buildings, and to those who know people who do so, in City of Liverpool only (different rules apply in Sefton, Knowsley, Halton and Wirral).

Why is Liverpool introducing changes?

The City Council’s current planning policies are about twenty years old and they need to be updated. On the subject of HMOs in particular the Council feels it does not have the tools it would like to ‘manage’ the impact such uses can have. As the number of HMOs have increased in recent years, especially but not exclusively in the student housing sector, residents in areas that have seen a particular increase in the number of HMOs have not been happy. They report problems with on-street car parking, poor refuse storage and inconsiderate behaviour. Some HMOs have not been run well and have tarnished the reputation of the whole sector. The City Council feels compelled to adopt a more interventionist position, to protect those neighbourhoods where the number of HMOs may harm their character and to raise the standard of accommodation where HMOs are allowed.

What is changing?

The Council is bringing forward new planning policies to help steer development across the City over the next 15 years. These will replace the City’s current planning policies. Among these proposed new policies are two of particular relevance to property investors.

The first (draft policy H10) is on the subject of the conversion of buildings to dwellings and the sub-division of existing dwellings, to create flats and HMOs. It would introduce 22 detailed criteria against which planning applications will be assessed. To give you a flavour, some of the subjects covered in those criteria include

  • minimum space standards, light and ventilation standards, and acoustic insulation
  • refuse storage, off-street car parking, access to rear yards and or gardens
  • impact on neighbours and character of the area.

The other policy (draft policy H11) is specifically about HMOs and sets out those areas where a new HMO would not be allowed if it would breach a 10% threshold for the area. These are areas where the Council consider the number of HMOs is having or would have an adverse impact on the character of an area. Nine such areas have been identified, three of which have already exceeded the 10% threshold.

These policies would apply when planning permission is required, which normally is for HMOs with more than six persons. Those with six or less do not need planning permission if they are being created out of a single dwelling (house or flat). The Council also wishes to control these smaller HMOs. To do so it is going to introduce something called an Article 4 Direction, which is a legal instrument that will drop the threshold at which planning permission is required from more than six to more than three.

The Council has already introduced one of these Article 4 Directions. It affects the Dales Neighbourhood Area and came into effect on 19 July 2018. A copy is not available on the Council website (as at 17 January 2020). Some information is available on the Council website, including a map of the area affected.  The following link will take you to the page, and then scroll down to find ‘Guide for landlords of HMO properties in the Dales roads, L15’

Which areas will be affected by these changes?

Some of the changes being brought forward by the Council would apply across the City.

For example, most parts of draft planning policy H10 would apply to HMOs and flats across the City.

The nine areas where Article 4 Directions may be introduced and where there would be a limit on the number of HMOs are identified in the document containing the emerging policy. There are three areas where the limit has already been reached, they are

  • The ‘Dales’ Neighbourhood (already the subject of an Article 4 Direction, see above)
  • Smithdown Road / Gainsborough-Wellington Roads / Picton Road / Cranborne Road, and
  • Kensington Fields.

The nine areas were identified on the basis of evidence collected across 2016-2017 and the Council will be updating the evidence to see whether any changes need to be made to the number and extent of the areas.

When will these changes happen?

These changes have been a long time coming (getting on for two and a half to three years, or more) and that might encourage some people to think that perhaps they’ve gone away. But they have not, and things are moving forward ….. slowly.

The progress toward the adoption of the new policy document has been delayed again and I don’t think it will happen much before the end of 2021. It might even be 2022.

However, while the emerging policy cannot carry the same weight as current policy, the Council can still take it into account. At this stage the emerging policy should be more ‘advisory’ than ‘compulsory’, but beware, in practice both planning officers and planning committee are already starting to use the emerging criteria to judge the acceptability of applications.

Work on introducing more Article 4 Directions is underway. The timing is not linked to progress on the new planning policy document. It too is a lengthy process and it might not be introduced until late 2021 or early 2022.

Want to know more?

The draft planning policy can be found on the Liverpool City Council website. The most up to date version (as at 26 March 2020) can be found in a document called the Draft Schedule of Main Modifications (6 March 2020).  This sets out how the Council now propose these policies should be set out, following some discussion with the emerging Local Plan Examination Inspector about the version of the policies which were set out in the Submission Draft Liverpool Local Plan January 2018.  The following link should take you straight to the schedule of main modifications.

Once you have the document open, you will find policy H10 starts on the 83rd page, and policy H11 on the 91st. The list of nine areas where additional restrictions on HMOs will apply are on the 94th page. Sorry, but the Council did not see fit to number the pages.

The associated maps are still to be found in the Submission Draft Liverpool Local Plan. It is not easy to find this document on the Council website. The following guide should help you get there.

First, the following link should take you to the Helen Wilson Consultancy Ltd web page for the Liverpool Local Plan (Helen is the Examination Programme Officer).

Toward the bottom of that webpage look for the title in blue text (next to a + sign) that says ‘Examination Documents List’.

You should be able to click on the blue text and a drop down box should appear. Within the text in that drop down box look for any text in red. It may say something like ‘Liverpool documents list 9 3 2020’. That red text is another link, so click on that.

That should open for you a page entitled ‘The Liverpool Local Plan Examination Documents List’. On that list you are looking for document ‘CD1’ (in blue underlined text) called ‘Submission Draft Liverpool Local Plan May 2018’. The ‘CD1’ in blue is a link. Click on that.

That should, finally, open for you a ‘pdf’ version of the ‘Submission Draft Liverpool Local Plan January 2018’ (yes, ‘January’, but trust me, that is the right one!). It may take a few seconds to download and open.

The maps identifying the three areas where the Council say the ten per cent threshold has already been exceeded are shown on pictures 7, 8 & 9, across pages 142 to 144.

The Council have not made it easy to find them, so well done if you did!

You can find out more about the corporate, strategic approach Liverpool City Council is taking to HMOs in a report presented to Cabinet back on 21 April 2017. The link below should take you to that report.

Open the Public reports pack and go to document page number 97.


[Updated 26 March 2020]