Council Moves to Further Protect Character of Local Communities

  • Decision to be made next week on adopting new planning restrictions on the numbers of houses of multiple occupation in each neighbourhood
  • Too many HMO’s can change the look, feel and character of local communities

PLANS to help preserve the character of local communities in Reading by placing further restrictions on the number of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) that can be built in each neighbourhood, look set to be adopted by the Council next week.

HMOs are houses which have been converted to accommodate a number of unrelated people. As a key employment hub in the south-east and home to a large student population, the demand for HMO rental properties in Reading is extremely high. But HMOs can also cause community issues where they are prevalent, such as pressure on limited car parking spaces, issues with multiple bins in bin storage areas and the loss of privacy and amenity space.

While some restrictions to new HMOs are already in place in parts of the town, the Council recently carried out a public consultation on proposals to strengthen existing planning guidance.

Proposals included:

  • Clarification that the existing 25% threshold within 50 metres of a property applies to the total number of residential buildings, as opposed to residential dwellings, within the Article 4 areas 
  • A new approach to proposals for conversion to both flats and HMOs outside the Article 4 area, where the proportion of residential buildings within 50m of the application site that have been converted would not be expected to exceed 50%. Other criteria would include whether or not the application site falls within the 30% most deprived local areas in Reading
  • Avoiding situations where a residential dwelling is sandwiched between two HMOs

Following a recent eight-week public consultation on the planned changes, Council officers are recommending to next week’s (March 23) Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee that the update to its Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) is adopted. Alongside the borough’s Local Plan, the Council’s SPD serves to guide future decisions on planning applications.

The SEPT Committee report can be found at

Leng, M 2022

Micky Leng, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Planning, said:

“There is little doubt there is a huge and continuing demand for HMOs in Reading, but it is the Council’s job to ensure we balance these demands with the need to retain and preserve the character of local communities in the town.

“We have seen that a prevalence of HMOs in parts of our town can lead to tensions in a local community. Examples include pressure on limited parking or multiple bin collections at HMO addresses. More fundamentally, HMOs can change the look, feel and character of a local neighbourhood, which existing residents understandably have concerns over.

 “What we are proposing is tightening up the existing thresholds in Article 4 areas around the University, and introducing a new threshold for other parts of Reading where restrictions do not already exist and where applications for house conversions to HMO’s are spreading.

“If adopted next week, these changes strengthen and update existing planning policies and will be a material consideration when deciding if an HMO conversion will be approved.”

The principle for the existing and proposed new SPD policy for converting houses to flats or HMOs, is that it should be assessed against the impact on the amenity or character of the surrounding area, particularly in terms of intensification of activity, loss of privacy, loss of external amenity space, the provision and location of adequate on-site car parking and the treatment of bin storage areas and other related servicing. 

While a conversion from a house to a large HMO always needs planning permission,  a conversion from a house to a small HMO benefits from permitted development rights under planning law and does not therefore generally require planning permission. It is why the Council has already introduced Article 4 directions in parts of Reading where HMOs are prevalent, in order to bring these under planning control.

The restrictions which already exist in some parts of Reading to limit the number of new HMOs include the need to apply for planning permission for small HMOs in some wards covered by an Article 4 direction, and a 25% limit to the proportion of HMOs within 50m of the application property. The Article 4 area covers much of Park, Redlands and Katesgrove wards, as well as Jesse Terrace.