Fears South Woodford homes are being converted into 24-person HMO sparks 100-strong protest
PUBLISHED: 12:30 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:16 08 January 2019
Neighbours are protesting what they fear is the underhand conversion of a former South Woodford vicarage and adjoining flats into a 24-person HMO complex.
But the owners of 49, 49a and 49b Buckingham Road - which was once The Old Rectory - have said plans for some of the properties are still undecided and Redbridge Council confirms they have not breached any rules.
Around 100 gathered in protest outside the properties on Saturday (December 8) joined by Woodford MP Iain Duncan Smith carrying banners emblazoned with the words “STOP! HMOs on Buckingham Road”.
“It will destroy our community, which is already overstretched,” said Pat Baron, 74, who has lived on the road for more than 25 years.
“The road is already heavily congested and they are already huge waiting lists to get into nearby schools.”
She said she wouldn’t object if families were to move into the soon-to-be four homes, rather than “cramming people in”.
A House in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) is a home shared by three or more people who are not a household, such as a family, and share facilities such as kitchens of bathrooms.
Planning permission must be obtained to create large HMOs of seven or more people, while small HMOs of up to six people can be created without under “permitted development” rights.
However, all HMOs must obtain a mandatory licence from the council ensuring they meet minimum standards.
Protesters accuse the properties’ owners of “playing fast and loose” with the need to obtain planning permission for a large HMO by first dividing number 49 into two homes which could become two small HMOs.
“It should all be viewed as one project,” said one neighbour, who did not wish to be named.
“We are not being afforded our ‘natural justice’ to submit our objections.”
He added: “We are disappointed [the owners] have decided to abandon the neighbourhood and leave us drowning in a quagmire of HMOs.”
Karen Wray told the Recorder she is the appointed project manager of conversion working on behalf of the property owners which includes Ravi Bhanot, of High Road, Chigwell.
Responding to the allegations, she said: “We have been and will continue to work closely with the planning department at the council in strict accordance with planning laws and regulations in making the property into two houses.
“We are operating within the confines of any planning permission granted.
“A final decision has not yet been made whether we will then be selling them.”
A Redbridge Council spokeswoman said that the council is fully aware of the development of these properties.
She added: “Number 49 has planning consent and is under construction to be used as two dwellings.
“49A and B are being renovated and have permitted developments rights to operate as small HMOs.
“A mandatory licence has also been submitted and the council are working with them to ensure the property meets the required standards.
She said that there has been no breach of the regulation because none of the properties are occupied yet but added the council will continue to monitor as works progress.
“To meet the planning regulations they have been advised that each HMO should have no more than six people,” she added.
“Regarding the planning consent at number 49 to convert into two dwellings. The adjoining neighbours of the site were consulted by letter.”
However Mrs Baron feels that this consultation was inadequate, saying that two adjoining properties - 49A and B - are owned by members of the same family.
Speaking after the protest, Mr Duncan Smith said that residents are “really, really concerned” about how their area is being targeted by “property speculators”.
By turning houses when they become vacant into multiple occupancy use, he added, they place huge pressure onto the infrastructure including school places, doctors surgeries and parking.
He added: “The local council cannot keep granting these speculators the right to this change of use which has huge impact on the local community.”
In response, the council’s Labour leader Jas Athwal said: “The relaxed government planning laws mean that the council is almost powerless in stopping developments like these. “We are currently pursuing an Article 4 direction which will enable us to stop any developments like these in future if it comes into effect in 2019.”
A campaign petition has gained more than 670 signatures so far.
The group is set to having a meeting with Redbridge Council this week.