A local Fife councillor has warned that the recently introduced ban on HMOs - houses in multiple occupancy - in St Andrews town centre could lead to a new wave of spiralling house prices.
Councillor Bill Sangster, who voted against the restriction at a recent meeting of Fife Council’s North East Fife area committee, claims that the controversial decision could make it even harder for families to get a home in St Andrews.
At last month’s meeting in Cupar, the four elected members in St Andrews were equally split over the vote which overturned a recommendation contained in a report before them that no moratorium be introduced.
Councillors decided by the narrowest of margins - eight votes to seven - to refuse planning permission for future HMOs in the central area of the town.
Councillor Sangster, who was joined by Fife Provost Frances Melville in voting against the policy - fellow local councillors Robin Waterston and Dorothea Morrison backed the move - had argued that the whole town had to be taken into account when deciding on an HMO policy.
Speaking exclusively to the Citizen, Councillor Sangster said: ”When I voted in support of the motion not to adopt the ban as Fife Council policy in central St Andrews, I was content that the Policy H3 would be sufficiently supported by the two departments, planning and licensing, working closer together, along with the new Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011 which gives authority on deciding on the over provision of HMOs.”
This particular legislation was granted Royal Assent in late April and is proposed to be in operation later this year.
Councillor Sangster continued: ”I do not believe a ban, for any length of time, on HMOs in only one area of St Andrews is acceptable to the majority of the community.
‘‘I have received many letters and phone calls from residents, owners of HMOs and members of the community, including students and parents, who have already made financial arrangements with owners and agents and who have applications in the pipeline for the next academic year.
“Many feel that no consideration appears to have been given to those applications already underway.”
Explaining the situation as it stands now, Councillor Sangster made it clear that there will be no reduction of HMOs which already have planning permission.
He pointed out that HMOs cover many types of accommodation, including shared flats and houses, bedsits, hostels and halls of residence for students and nurses, boarding houses, hotels or bed and breakfast establishments with permanent residents, in addition to “move on” accommodation for homeless people.
He added: ”As far as new planning applications for change of use in the central area are concerned, the moratorium does not stop people applying for planning permission. Accordingly, it is now a material consideration in the determination of any application for an HMO or change of use to an HMO, regardless of whether the application was lodged before or after the decision was taken by councillors last month.
“An applicant whose application is refused planning permission will still have a right of appeal to the local review body - for delegated cases - or to the Scottish Ministers if an adverse decision on the application is made.
“One of my concerns now is that this moratorium will cause a rise in the housing market prices and families will find it even harder to acquire a home in St Andrews.
‘‘In the St Andrews area, there are over 300 applicants on the council housing waiting list at this moment in time, and no sign of any new affordable or social housing being targeted locally that will make any real difference in the near future.”
The moratorium has also been criticised by student leaders at St Andrews University who fear that it will force undergraduates to live on the edges of the town centre, putting pressure on house prices in areas that are at present popular with families.
They are also concerned that landlords could charge increased rents to fewer tenants in an attempt to sustain income, while sidestepping HMO regulations.