Restrictions to stop more students packing into houses in the Garden Quarter are not working, a report reveals.

As 2,600 new students flocked to the city during Freshers’ Week, The Chronicle can reveal there is ‘no evidence’ a council policy to stop homes being transformed into shared houses is having any impact on the community.

In July 2013, Cheshire West and Chester Council introduced an Article 4 Direction in the Garden Quarter, meaning that all houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) required planning permission in a bid to curb the growth of family homes being converted and dominating communities.

But according to figures, obtained from council tax records and property sales, there are more HMOs in the area than ever before – with potentially more than 450 shared households in the borough.

An official report reveals a ‘sharp’ increase in the number of HMOs in both the Garden Quarter and throughout Chester since monitoring began in Cheshire West and Chester in 2012, around a year before Article 4 was implemented.

Council data reveals there are currently 256 licenced HMOs in Cheshire West and Chester – 63.67% of these are in the Garden Quarter alone, while 31.25% are in the rest of Chester.

With licenced HMOs having three storeys and five or more people this means that at least 1,215 people are living in shared accommodation in Chester – 815 of these are staying in the Garden Quarter.

In the last two years 171 properties in Chester have been officially converted into HMOs, 26 of these were in the Garden Quarter, despite the Article 4 Direction being in place for half of this period.

But, in reality, there could be even more students living in shared houses in the city, with council tax records revealing there are a further 123 properties with a Chester postcode considered as HMOs, which are currently classed by the council as family properties.

The HMO Monitoring Report, put before the authority’s Local Development Framework Panel on September 15, states that there is “no evidence” that the Article 4 Direction has brought about any improvements for residents living in the Garden Quarter.

Residents have called for urgent action from the council to deal with the influx of HMOs, and to put rigid measures in place throughout the whole of the city to curb the number of HMOs and stop Chester becoming a ‘giant student campus’.

Councillor for the Garden Quarter Bob Rudd said that in reality 50% of people living in the ward were students. Some HMOs house up to nine people – with at least 2,000 students currently living in the tight-knit community.

But, while many of the students live harmoniously alongside residents and contribute positively to the vibrant neighbourhood, the report reveals that:

Cllr Rudd has received 136 complaints about HMOs in the past two-and-a-half years – 93% related to waste issues;

The Housing Standards team have received seven complaints about poor conditions in HMOs in Chester since July 2013, four of these were in the Garden Quarter;

The street with the highest number of complaints about waste was Hoole Road, with 64 complaints;

And the University of Chester received 81 complaints about noise and anti-social behaviour since April 2012 – just 16 of these complaints related to properties outside of the Article 4 area.

Garden Quarter resident and long time campaigner for the student village Avril Coady said: “We need to embrace the university in a balanced way, one that allows its residential community a quality of life and to make sure that other areas of Chester do not experience what has happened in the Garden Quarter which has lost a large percentage of its permanent residents to student occupation.

“Surely it’s time to address this problem in a sustainable way before it is too late.”

Rachel Dyson, who lives in the Garden Quarter, said: “At the very least we need protection for the Garden Quarter, ideally that would mean no more HMOs.

“That protection has to be number one on the agenda, but nobody seems to be listening to that.”

Following the report council officers are conducting a detailed analysis of the 450 plus potential HMOs to find out the total figure of shared houses in the Article 4 area and the rest of the borough.

A spokesperson for CWaC said: “There are currently 163 licensable HMOs in the Garden Quarter. To be licensable a property has to be three storeys with five or more people. We are currently working towards getting a total figure for the HMOs.”

Professor Tim Wheeler, vice-chancellor of the University of Chester, said: “The university is expanding modestly and anticipates that much of its future growth will not be in Chester. The academic reputation of the university has seen applications remain as high as nine per place, despite the introduction of higher level tuition fees.

“There are a number of private developers who either have schemes that are approved or are going through the appeal process, and some others that have yet to enter the planning process.

“The university welcomes improvements to the supply of good quality, affordable accommodation that provides an opportunity to concentrate support for students both academically and pastorally.

“The only new building of student residences, which was undertaken by the University itself, was the development of the 202-bedroom Grosvenor House which opened at the Parkgate Road, Chester Campus in 2013.”

The Rev Dr Lesley Cooke, Dean of Students, said: “We work hard to encourage our students to be responsible adults, good neighbours and to contribute positively to the community in which they live and work.

“We take our responsibility to our neighbours very seriously and would encourage members of the community to bring student-related concerns to our attention as soon as possible so that we can look into them quickly to enable a speedy resolution.

“We also hold regular community liaison committee meetings which are attended by a range of local representatives, and topical matters can be raised by representatives in this forum.”

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