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Confusion at planning committee meeting about HMO numbers in Llanelli

The end-of-terrace building which now has planning permission as a six-bedroom HMO in Station Road, Llanelli (Pic: Google Maps)

CONTROVERSIAL plans for a house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Llanelli have been given the go-ahead despite confusion at a meeting about how many HMOs there are in the area.

A planning report before Carmarthenshire Council’s planning committee said Station Road, Tyisha, where the six-bedroom HMO was proposed, had “a number of HMOs”.

In addition, a representative of a multi-million pound council-led project aiming to revitalise the Tyisha ward, partly by reducing HMO numbers, said in an email that there were 11 HMOs – shared houses and properties used as bedsits – within 200m of the application site.

Objectors to the proposal said approving the new application would increase HMO levels, counteract regeneration work by the council, and potentially lead to further anti-social behaviour and drug use problems in the area.

A planning officer told the committee, though, that he had checked with the council’s housing team and that, if given planning permission, the HMO would only be the second licensed one in Llanelli.

Earlier, Councillor Terry Davies, who represents Tyisha and serves on the committee, said there was an excess of HMOs in the area and that they have “caused mayhem” linked to crime and anti-social behaviour, and that drug dealers targeted vulnerable tenants living in them.

Cllr Davies said this caused property values to drop, which made them more more attractive to landlords when they were sold, in turn creating more HMOs.

He said: “Too many HMOs have caused a chain reaction.”

Cllr Davies said the situation, along with deprivation in the ward, had prompted the council-led £9.3 million regeneration project, known as Transforming Tyisha.

Councillor Suzy Curry, who also represents Tyisha but is not on the committee, said HMOs had led to an increase in noise, anti-social behaviour, the use of drink and drugs in public, crime, and general disorderly behaviour in the ward.

“They have also made it more difficult for families and young people to find affordable housing and left our ageing community afraid to walk on Station Road for fear of being assaulted or confronted,” she said.

“Parents have also told me that they won’t allow their children to play on the green – one of the only few green spaces in the Tyisha ward – because they are worried about their safety because of the abundance of already vulnerable people who live in HMOs on Station Road.”

The council’s planning department recommended the HMO application for approval, but committee members said they were confused about the fact there was only one registered HMO in Llanelli when local councillors and the council’s own Tyisha regeneration team said there were many more.

Councillor Michael Thomas said: “I feel we are not working with the full facts. There are definitely more HMOs in the area.” Cllr Nysia Evans said there seemed to be a contradiction. “We seem to be going round in circles,” she said.

Councillor Russell Sparks asked if the application could be deferred so that the HMO question could be explored, but he was advised that the committee had to make a decision that day.

He also said he was concerned that HMO tenants were being stereotyped as causing anti-social behaviour and potential drug problems.
“I don’t think it’s fair and reasonable to have that in as an objection,” he said.

The HMO was proposed at a three-storey property adjacent to Hotel Miramar, which is close to Llanelli railway station, with the kitchen, living room and bathroom on the ground floor and two further bathrooms on the floors above.

The bedrooms, said the planning report, would be of “generous proportions”. The end-of-terrace building is current split into three flats but is vacant.

The planning officer advising the committee said the HMO, if approved, would need to be licensed by the council, and that Dyfed-Powys Police colice could feed into that process.

He also said the Transforming Tyisha team could have attended the planning meeting to substantiate its concerns about HMO numbers.

Cllr Davies continued to voice his frustration about HMO numbers – at one point prompting the council’s solicitor, Steve Murphy, to say dispersions should not be made about other council officers.

Cllr Davies had proposed turning down the application but no-one seconded it, and he withdrew it.

He did vote against the application, though.  Seven councillors voted in favour and eight abstained.

The council, according to its website, operates a mandatory licensing scheme for HMOs which are three or more storeys high and have five or more occupiers who do not form a single household. It also operates a “selective licensing scheme” in Tyisha.

All privately-rented properties within a selective licensing area have to be licensed, regardless of whether the property is an HMO.

Licence holders have a responsibility to ensure tenants do not cause problems within the boundary of the property through anti-social behaviour.