STUDENT accommodation in Chester came under the spotlight when planning chiefs got to grips with their policies involving houses of multiple occupation.
The city's planning board was considering separate applications at 27 Gladstone Avenue and 8 Liverpool Road.
At Gladstone Avenue, applicant Mr S Talbot told the City Council he was seeking approval to retain a change of use of the former single family dwelling to a house of multiple occupation (HMO) which would be occupied by five students.
On Liverpool Road, Bouverie Ltd put forward a similar application for the property which they told the city council would be occupied by 10 students. Planning officers originally recommended that both applications should be allowed but development control manager Miss Fiona Edwards told the board that after planning policies had been reconsidered, they believed both should be refused.
College ward City Cllr David Mead (Lib Dem), who called in the application at Gladstone Avenue, said he had raised a motion at the full City Council dealing with the problems of student accommodation.
This was being considered by the Town Hall Executive and he believed a decision should be deferred until proposals had been brought forward.
There was great concern in the area about HMOs and he argued an estimate that 42% of residents were students "is likely to be an underestimate.''
The number of students made for a “very unbalanced community and a breakdown of community life”, he believed.
Miss Edwards said a working group had been set up but suggested that any recommendations were ''some distance away”.'
She believed the planning board had to decide the applications “in the light of the policies we have today”.'
The board was told that no objections had been raised by neighbours to the conversion of the two storey, mid terrace property with accommodation in the roof space to an HMO although the County Engineer opposed the plans on the basis the application did not include any off-street parking.
In their original recommendation, planning officers argued in a report that the university had expanded in recent years and there was a need to provide student accommodation in the district.
They accepted, however, that Mr Talbot had not shown there was an overriding need or that the property was no longer suitable as a single family dwelling.
Independent inspectors had recently allowed similar applications in the area as they did not believe they would cause any unacceptable harm to the character of the locality, the amenity of neighbours or highway safety.
College ward city councillor and Labour planning spokesman Cllr Sandra Rudd moved the application should be refused while Cllr Terri Gray (Con, Newton Brook) called for an emergency policy.
“HMOs should not be allowed if family dwellings are lost,'' suggested Cllr Jim Latham (Lib Dem, Boughton Heath).
The board agreed on a 12 - 0 vote with one abstention to accept Miss Edwards's revised recommendation and refuse the application.
They were concerned a single family dwelling would be lost and agreed with the objections raised by the county engineer.
At Liverpool Road, agents Hoole Technical Solutions said the large, semi-detached three-storey villa style property had been refurbished to a high standard inside and out.
The agents argued it was “very unlikely” that a property of that size on Liverpool Road would be occupied by a single family.
By using the large house as an HMO, this would take away some of the pressure to use smaller homes in the neighbourhood for multiple occupation, they felt, freeing up more to be used as family dwellings.
They did not believe that using the house as an HMO would lead to any deterioration of amenity in the area.
At 27 Victoria Road, Dr A R Jones and Mrs A Jones objected raising concerns about parking and additional traffic.
They claimed that even larger houses on Liverpool Road were still in family occupation.
Similar objections were raised by Mr David Lyne at 31 Victoria Road.
In their original recommendation that the application should be approved, planning officers pointed out that neighbouring properties had already been converted to student accommodation.
The County Engineer did not believe that a refusal based on car parking was justified although he had concerns about the impact of HMOs in the wider area.
Miss Edwards said the application should be refused as no evidence had been provided that the student accommodation could not be provided by other means.
Cllr Mead referred to parking problems on an alleyway at the back of the property which had also been raised by objectors and commented: “I am not convinced the house would not attract a family. Nearby houses are occupied by families.''
“We do not want the character of the area to be affected,'' he suggested.
“There are concerns the whole area could be on a downward spiral,'' added Cllr Mead.
Cllr Rudd again moved refusal while colleague College ward councillor Janet Black (Lab) said she was delighted it was now recommended the application should be rejected.
After Miss Edwards had reiterated the applicant had not demonstrated there was a need for the accommodation which could not be met by other means, the application was refused on a similar 12 - 0 vote with one abstention.