Article 4 Directions mean that anyone renting a property with 3 or more unrelated people will require planning permission if the property does not have established rights to do so. Many local authorities are using this ‘planning tool’ as a mechanism for creating what they call a more ‘balanced’ community. In reality these local authorities are preventing tenants the freedom to choose where they wish to live, and for landlords, to prevent them from renting out properties to certain groups of people.
So called ‘studentification’ (an area that has become saturated with high numbers of students) is often quoted as a reason for introducing the Article 4 Direction, whereby a often small but vociferous minority of local residents have complained to the local authority about the anti social behaviour frequently associated with student populations. Where councils have introduced this measure, it is not only students and landlords who are affected but other groups of individuals who traditionally choose shared housing, e.g. young professionals, migrant workers, workers on low wages and benefit recipients.
I fully understand and sympathise with home owners who have seen their residential areas slowly turned into an extension of the university campus, but this is a product of allowing universities to be built and then grow without providing sufficient housing and infrastructure. In most cases, the horse has already bolted and Article 4 cannot return former residential areas to their previous status because the right to operate residential properties as Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has been established through use.
It is probably fair to say that the majority of the general public support Article 4 legislation, and I confess that my initial reaction was the same, however, as my knowledge has increased and the issues have emerged I am now vehemently opposed to it because of how I believe local authorities can and are using the legislation to ‘shape’ it’s view of society, as opposed to how the society will shape itself through the ‘natural order’ of things. For example, where areas of towns have a high number of HMOs, Article 4 will be used to prevent additional HMOs from being established. I believe this will happen not only in areas where there are high numbers of students but additionally, and specifically where the groups of people mentioned earlier wish to live. I have heard councillors and even my local MP state the desire to create a ‘more balanced’ society in certain areas of the town and this is my main concern.
Just what constitutes a ‘more balanced’ community? More Welsh people, more Scottish people, more migrants, more married people, more gay people, more older people, more children, more rich people, more poor people, more working people, more unemployed people etc. etc. (get the message?) And what right has a local authority to decide what this should look like?
What I believe local authorities mean by a more ‘balanced’ community is to get rid of those elements of the communities that that they dislike or are perceived to be problematical. I have heard this termed as ‘social engineering’ and I guess this is exactly what it is and the target of such prejudice includes the poor, the vulnerable, migrants and yes students who live in shared accommodation. We should not forget that all of these individuals have the some rights as anyone else!
It is my belief that in the main, communities structure and balance themselves naturally based on all sorts of factors and these communities change constantly over time. For example, former residential areas near universities now have thriving vibrant communities which bristle with life and where businesses (including being a landlord) now thrive in areas which were previously in decline. Yes there are problems, although they are often overstated, but these can be addressed by cooperation by stakeholders within the community and by the council using existing powers when required. We should not allow Local Authorities to use Article 4 legislation to denude our basic freedoms of choice or to ‘socially engineer’ our communities.