22 Jul 2018

Claughton Road flat conversion rejected as "unacceptable"

At this week's planning committee, I brought forward an application to convert an end-of-terrace property on Claughton Road into three flats. I did this because I strongly believed the proposal was an over development of the site. In particular, squeezing two flats into the first floor was unacceptable and would create very cramped living conditions for any future residents.

I was pleased the committee agreed with me and voted unanimously to refuse the application.

I am very concerned that Wirral's failure to adopt minimum room sizes is preventing officer's from refusing applications like this. I made this point forcefully during the debate and I will continue to press Wirral Council to address this and do more to stop a race to the bottom in living standards for private sector tenants.

 You can read my speech below and watch the debate via this link (starting at 2.05.50).

APP/18/00324 – 276 Claughton Road, Birkenhead

This traditional end of terrace property is located opposite the former Cole Street School. It is already operating as two flats despite having no planning history and is known to the council due to previous reports of anti-social behaviour.
I have three main concerns about this application. Two of these relate to the first-floor plans which would see this floor split into a one bedroom flat plus a studio flat.

Firstly, and as noted in the officer's report, the Private Sector Housing Team has raised concerns about the size of the studio flat. Specifically:

In relation to the 1st floor (rear) studio flat the combined floor area is approx. 16m2 (excluding the bathroom and lobby). Having viewed the Housing Act 2004 and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, I can advise that this flat would be deemed too small to be considered an adequately sized unit of living accommodation.
The closest floor area to that being suggested for a self-contained flat is contained in a CIEH (Chartered Institute of Environmental Health) document, which provides for:-

One person flatlet with separate kitchen
Bed/Living room                               14m2
Kitchen                                                 5.5m2
Total habitable floor area             19.5m2
 One person flatlet with separate bedroom
Bedroom                                             7m2
Kitchen/Lounge                                14.5m2
Total habitable floor area             21.5m2
 Bathroom and lobby floor area are not counted from a housing perspective.

So, the CIEH recommended minimum size is this type of flat is 19.5m2 and what we have here is 16m2.

Secondly, the one-bedroom flat on the first floor includes an extremely small bedroom – just 5.1m2. 

Bedroom 2 of flat 2 measures 5.1 square metres and is approximately 1.98m wide.  The government's technical housing standards require that: 

in order to provide one bedspace, a single bedroom has a floor area of at least 7.5m2 and is at least 2.15m wide.
A link to the standards is here:

Now from the case officer's point of view, the concerns raised by the Private Sector Housing Team relate to non-planning related legislation while the government's technical housing standards can only provide a guide line. As the officer's report says:

At present, Wirral Borough Council does not, as local planning authority, have adopted policies that regulate the size of rooms within new dwellings, including those formed through conversion. Nonetheless, the applicant's agent has been informed of the concerns raised by the Private Sector Housing Team. 

Now the way I read that is the officer telling us, as councillors, to adopt a policy that gives officers the ability to refuse applications like this. We now have a long and considerable case history of refusing applications for reasons of inadequate bedroom size with mixed results in terms of subsequent appeals. It's totally unacceptable that we have failed to address this issue and it has to be a priority in terms of the new local plan.

My third concern is that the outside amenity space is simply too small to meet the conditioned requirement for bin and cycle storage.

I would therefore suggest the following wording to refuse this application: 

The development proposed, having regard to the size of the building and by reason of the number of units proposed, would result in an over-intensive use of the building resulting in cramped and unsatisfactory living conditions that fall short of the good standard of amenity for occupants of buildings sought by Paragraph 17 of the National Planning Policy Framework.