Cambridge City Council throws out Labour shared housing motion

Last night, Cambridge City Council roundly defeated the Labour Party motion to cap shared housing in Cambridge.

The motion followed speeches from members of the public who had come to the Guildhall to address their concerns about the motions to councillors. They expressed their disquiet at the potential shortage of accommodation which might ensure if Labour restricted the number of shared houses, the unreasonableness of making ordinary families with lodgers register as HMOs, and the desirability of mixed communities.

I was first to oppose the motion, and you can read a transcript of my speech on Richard Taylor’s site, and here is a link to Richard’s recording of the anti-house share debate on YouTube.  Thank you Richard for getting an account of the debate on line so quickly.

Liberal Democrat councillors put forward an amendment to Labour’s motion, keeping the first few words which “the vital contribution that well-run houses make in providing homes for family, students, professionals and migrant workers” but dropping the parts about widening the scope of HMO designation and restricting numbers.

Lib Dems asked for an annual report to be brought to the council’s Community Services Committee detailing the number and type of complaints received by the Environmental Health Department in all types of housing in the city and how they have been dealt with, including the number of prosecutions.

Labour cap on shared houses

The latest motion to appear from the Cambridge Labour Group alarms me greatly. They are raising concerns about shared houses, and call for a report on limiting the number of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). Labour wants to widen the HMO term to include homes with lodgers as well as shared houses of young single people (though whether this is legal or not we do not know). And they are contemplating a cap on the number of shared houses in individual streets.

I find the motion nasty in the way in which it demonises people who share as ‘troublemakers’.  When we first moved to Queen Edith’s, one set of next-door neighbours was a large family with children; the other had Anglia Ruskin students. We never had any noise or disturbance from the students; the family with children, though friendly and sociable, was noisier by far!

I fear for the motion’s effects on those who rent and share houses because they cannot afford to buy in Cambridge, as well as for the many families who depend on extra income, say, from renting out spare bedrooms to students from the universities or language schools. And quite honestly, not everybody fits into the nuclear family mould – why should we all conform?

My colleague Tim Ward, who runs the Cambridge Accommodation Noticeboard, details the problems http://www.brettward.co.uk/canb/threat.htm.

Here is the motion, proposed by Petersfield councillor Gail Marchant-Daisley:

The Council recognises the vital contribution that well-run Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) make in providing housing for families, students, professionals and migrant workers.

However, given problems from some HMOs failing to deliver quality, safe housing, or creating serious problems for neighbours, the Council requests the Executive Councillor for Housing to bring forward a report to assess options to improve the operation and regulation of HMOs in Cambridge, including:

1) extending the current HMO definition to include all properties with 3 or more people in two or more unrelated households, regardless of the building layout

2) improved enforcement of breaches of licences granted to HMOs, and

3) wider adoption of best practice on HMOs by comparable cities including Oxford,

and that the Head of Planning Services also report to the Executive Councillor for Planning and Sustainable Transport and the Development Plan Scrutiny Sub-Committee on the future option of denying permission for additional HMOs in any street or 200 metre stretch of any street where HMO numbers reach 25% of residential properties, to enable inclusion of this proposal in the summer ‘issues and options’ consultation on the Cambridge Local Plan 2014 to 2031.

Other motions this Thursday are on:

  • taking more local decisions at area committees, eg tree works, safety grants
  • recording protocol for council meetings
  • housing maintenance contract
  • Marshalls
  • supporting Post Offices

I attach the full agenda. The meeting is open to the public and starts at 6 p.m. in the Guildhall this Thursday.