Work to extend Corby 'HMO' continues apace despite being TURNED DOWN by planners

The former family home is being extended so it can be used as a house in multiple occupation

By Kate Cronin
Monday, 24th January 2022, 3:00 pm
Builders were on-site at the house in Pen Green Lane when our reporters visited

Builders are working to super-size a Corby home that looks set to become an HMO - despite a planning committee refusing permission for an extension.

Local people objected to the application to extend the house in Pen Green Lane to create six bedrooms after the case was highlighted in the Northants Telegraph last year.

A North Northants Council planning committee turned down the application. But residents were shocked to see builders moving in anyway - and a planning loophole means the work they are doing is entirely legal.

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The Northants Telegraph has repeatedly called for NNC to make use of tougher laws to make it more difficult for HMO landlords to operate in our town after we revealed the extent of the issue that is driving up the price of family homes in Corby.

The three-bed home in Pen Green lane was sold to a Milton-Keynes developer early last year and immediately internal works began.

An application to convert it to a six-bedroom house in multiple occupation (HMO) was submitted to NNC in June but quickly withdrawn.

Then two weeks later, another application, this time simply to convert the garage to a habitable room and add on a rear extension was submitted. In a report, planning officers said 'The objections relating to the possibility of applicant converting the property to HMO are unfounded as there is no evidence within the application suggesting that'.

They recommended that councillors should grant permission, but after hearing passionate submissions from neighbours over parking, noise and over-development of the area in a meeting last November, the planning committee decided to refuse permission for the conversion.

But to the horror of people living nearby, work continued.

The owner had scaled down the plans to ensure that the extension was just small enough to not need any planning permission because it was lawful under permitted development rights.

Neighbour Michael Ponting said: "They originally needed planning permission because the extension they wanted to do was more than 10 per cent of the original footprint of the building.

"Three of us were given the chance to speak at the planning meeting and I told them that I think we are all being conned.

"What was the point in us all going along to the meeting if they were just going to be able to do this?

"They won't need permission if the front of the house looks the same - and it seems they may be planning to keep the garage door on the front and use it as a bin store."

The developer, Tony Poon of Milton Keynes-based Prolyst Property has been vlogging about the scheme on the firm's social media pages, dubbing it Project Pen Green.

He boasts of the £3,500 that will be generated by the HMO each month, and details the 'developer training academy' he attended before purchasing the property. These 'academies' were highlighted in the Northants Telegraph last summer as being one of the main drivers behind London-based property developers flocking to Corby to snap-up cheap property to use as HMOs.

The developer has also shared links on how to navigate Permitted Property Development rights.

If he does want to use the house as an HMO, he will still have to apply separately to the council's licensing department for permission to do so if there are five or more tenants.

Ward councillor Mark Pengelly said: "I'm really disappointed that we thought we'd got a victory here when residents from the area went to the planning committee, put up a great presentation, and the committee voted that it shouldn't go ahead.

"The residents are incredibly disappointed that its now going ahead anyway, albeit slightly smaller. I understand how they feel. They thought this was over and done with."

Council planning officers have been out to the property but have found no illegality in the current development. A spokesman for North Northamptonshire Council said: “The site was subject of a recent inspection by council planning enforcement officers and no breaches of planning control were noted.

“The owner is currently converting the garage to a habitable room which is permitted development.

“Permitted development is an allowance under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 2015 (As amended) which allows a homeowner to extend or develop their property within certain parameters without the need for permission from the Local Planning Authority.

“With regard to occupancy, if the number of tenants living at the property is six or below then planning permission is not required as a change of Use Class C3 has not occurred.

“If there are more than four tenants then a licence would be required for the HMO. This is separate legislation to planning and Private Sector Housing are aware and will pursue the licence when the HMO use is commenced.”

The director of Prolyst Properties Tony Poon said, in a statement to this newspaper: "The property was purchased by Prolyst Property Ltd on May 1 2021.

"Prolyst Property Ltd is a new company. The Directors have prior experience of refurbishing small properties for the rental market, including in the Corby area

"Prolyst Property Ltd has and will continue to act within all legal and statutory requirements and guidance provided by the local authority. The Company has sought advice on a number of occasions from the local authority and is developing the above property in line with permitted development quidelines.

We are in the process of developing a high quality, single occupancy, co-living space at this property to meet the local demand for such accommodation.

"We are aware that a number of neighbours have raised concerns about the development at this propertv.

"Our intention is always to minimise disruption to neighbours during development work and to develop our properties to a high standard in order to attract a high calibre of tenant. We have

communicated that intention to neighbouring property owners from the outset and shared our key plans with them.

"We have encouraged, and continue to encourage, property owners to share their views with us so that these can be taken into consideration and the property developed sympathetic to these views, while continuing to ensure that we meet our business requirements.

"We intend to provide good quality, well-managed accommodation for working professionals in order to support the growing Corby economy. We aim to attract good quality tenants, people who are willing to pay higher than average market rents for better accommodation. These tenants are much more likely to appreciate their living environment and take care of the property.

"Our confidence in our product and tenants comes from our existing experiences with our similar properties in the Corby area. In order to achieve these goals, we are investing significantly more into the refurbishment of the property and grounds compared to a standard development of this kind.

"Beyond the development phase, we will appoint our existing local management agent, who specialises in co-living properties, to ensure tenants are fulfilling their obligations to the property and to neighbours."

Permitted development rights have been gradually relaxed by the Conservative government over recent years, initially to allow householders to be able to extend their homes more easily without having to get planning permission.

But the relaxation has also meant that some owners of office buildings have cheaply converted them to provide sub-par accommodation. The Government's own commission said of the extension of permitted development said that they had inadvertently led to the creation of future slums.

What are the rules surrounding HMOs?

An HMO is a house where at least three tenants from two or more different households live, sharing a kitchen, bathroom or living facilities.

A large HMO is a house where at least five tenants from two or more different households live.

An HMO licence, which is granted by the council's licensing department, is needed for an HMO with five or more tenants. Licenses are granted only if strict safety and living standards conditions are met.

Separately, anyone converting a building into an HMO for seven or more tenants must apply for the council's development control department for planning permission.

A house being converted for fewer than seven tenants does not need planning permission as it is automatically allowed to go ahead under permitted development rights.

An article four direction can be implemented by any council to protect the well-being of the area, and several authorities around the country have already done so. This means that permitted development rights could be suspended for HMOs of between three and six tenants, and that landlords of these type of HMOs would have to go through the full planning process.

NNC is currently considering an article four direction in Corby after an investigation by this newspaper that revealed there are 263 HMOs in the town that are having an impact on house prices and local communities. MP Tom Pursglove has also backed our calls.