Reading Borough Council has been assessing its conservation areas and, as well as considering the character and appearance of the areas, it is also looking to assess opinions on HMO’s (Houses in Multiple Occupation) within these areas and the possibility of introducing an Article 4 to manage these.
Reading Borough Council writes:
Measures to enhance and protect Reading’s Conservation Areas within the borough are to be considered by councillors. The areas are designated by the council as being of special architectural or historic interest where the character and appearance should be conserved and enhanced.
However, concerns have been raised about the increasing number of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) being created in these areas and about the decline in their general appearance.
Members of the Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport committee will consider plans to tackle these concerns and specific proposals to protect Jesse Terrace from a proliferation of HMOs. Council officers have set up a working group to work with the Baker Street Area Neighbourhood Association (BSANA) and other groups to look at priorities for environmental action and improvements.
Representatives of Historic England have also attended meetings to offer advice on how to proceed with plans to protect Conservation Areas. Some common concerns raised included conversion of houses into HMOs, issues with car parking, the loss and alteration of front walls to provide off-street parking and poor quality of new developments.
Councillors are being asked to approve a pilot project in which officers will undertake a review of the Castle Hill/Russell Street Conservation Area Appraisal to help develop a methodology for undertaking similar reviews in other areas. The review will provide an up to date assessment of the Conservation Area and identify priorities for future action to maintain and enhance it. However, current pressure on resources means there will be a dependence on assistance from volunteers, community organisations and Historic England. The committee will also hear about the possible controls over inappropriate changes, such as the loss of front walls, which would otherwise be permitted without the need for planning permission.
A separate measure is being considered specifically for Jesse Terrace in response to a petition received by the council in March, highlighting concerns about the increasing number of HMOs in the area. Census information shows the general area of the Castle Hill/Russell Street Conservation Area, in which Jesse Terrace lies, has a relatively high proportion of HMOs which is having a detrimental impact on the area.
The committee is being asked to approve the making of a ‘non-immediate Article 4 Direction’ to remove permitted development rights to convert property into HMOs. While this will not ban the future creation of HMOs it means planning permission will be required. There is already an Article 4 Direction in place on Jesse Terrace covering all external alterations which was put in place following the 2005 Conservation Area review.
Councillor Tony Page, Reading’s lead councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: ‘Reading’s Conservation Areas are places of distinctive and historic character which deserve protection. By undertaking a pilot review in Castle Hill/Russell Street, working with the community and Historic England, we will be able to create a template for future reviews in other areas.
‘The spread of Houses in Multiple Occupation can change the character of a place and have a negative impact on the environment and streetscape. The use of Article 4 Directions will give the council powers to prevent unacceptable development and take enforcement action. I’m particularly keen to see this in place in Jesse Terrace which is one of the town’s most attractive and unspoilt streets with interesting architecture important to Reading’s heritage. This latest proposal complements the existing Article 4 Direction covering all external alterations to all houses on Jesse Terrace. I know it will be supported by nearly all local residents.’
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