Fenland Council drops - for now at least- punitive licensing plan for Wisbech landlords after overwhelming opposition

The selective licensing scheme will affect all properties in the electoral wards of Wisbech town. Th

The selective licensing scheme will affect all properties in the electoral wards of Wisbech town. These are Clarkson, Kirkgate, Medworth, Octavia Hill, Peckover, Staithe, and Waterlees Village wards. - Credit: Archant

A bid to drive out rogue landlords in much of Wisbech – using a punitive selective licensing policy- has been shelved for now by Fenland Council in the wake of overwhelming hostility.

Nearly 1,000 responses were received by the council when they put out their proposals for consultation earlier this year.

With the results now in, officers have deferred any decision until October at the earliest.

Councillors will be told next week that 977 responses were received “and as a result of the consultation we will be looking into a number of delivery options.

“We will be arranging a further all member seminar, prior to reporting back to Cabinet in the autumn”,

The measures were put forward to help tackle widespread problems in privately rented housing in Wisbech and the crime and antisocial behaviour closely linked to them.

About 2,400 rented homes in seven wards were identified and would have required all

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private sector landlords in the designated area to show that they are “fit and proper” persons to hold a licence. It would seek to ensure that they comply with normal standards.

To get one they would have to show they can manage their properties properly, including having all the necessary safety measures in place and taking appropriate action against nuisance tenants.

Licences would last for five years and would cost landlords £575 for a single household let and £750 for a house in multiple occupation (HMO). The council argued that scheme would have been based on a “full cost recovery”, with the licence fees funding its operation. It is not allowed to make a profit.

The seven wards that make up the proposed designated area are Clarkson, Kirkgate, Medworth, Octavia Hill, Peckover, Staithe and Waterlees Village.

It would be a criminal offence for a landlord to operate there without a licence. Convicted landlords could be fined up to £20,000.

The council insisted selective licensing is seen as the necessary next step in combating the issues that have been identified by the multi-agency Operation Pheasant task force over the past three years.

And they claimed the proposal had the strong support of Cambridgeshire police, who say there is a “compelling case” for its introduction.

Under the Housing Act 2004 local authorities have the power to implement a selective licensing scheme in specific circumstances.

Councillor David Oliver, the Cabinet member responsible for community safety and the leader of Wisbech Town Council said: “All the evidence shows that improved standards in the private rented sector would have a knock-on effect in reducing crime and antisocial behaviour. Everyone stands to gain from this scheme.”

But fellow Wisbech councillor Steve Tierney opposed the policy, alleging there were some “some really big holes in it”.

On his blog he warned there were “some ‘supply and demand’ consequences that will almost certainly spring from it.

“The public won’t like the outcome of the policy anywhere near as much as they like the announcement of it. The applause can turn to condemnation very quickly.

“I’m not saying don’t strengthen your position with a policy like it. I’m saying ‘take some time.’ Consider the consequences. Think it through, get some advice outside of the immediate Officers involved and get it right. Or you will end up with all the things you are trying to stop, multiplied.”