HMO ‘not a glorified slum’ says developer as councillors vote to defer application

A bid to convert a grade-II listed town house into an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) in the ‘culture centre’ of Wisbech has been put on hold because of a bathroom.

Fenland District Council planning committee voted to defer the application for 2, Museum Square, because there was no bathroom proposed on the top floor.

Jeremy Baldwin had applied to modernise the house to allow nine people to live there in seven bedrooms.

Cllr Will Sutton, who proposed the deferral, said: “Generally speaking, I don’t have an issue with this building as an HMO. I don’t have a problem with the where it is.”

But he added: “I think the developer and agent have missed a trick.

“All those people in the upper bedrooms have to traipse down the stairs, traipse by the people on the floor below it. And that is going to be detrimental to their wellbeing.

“In its current form, I don’t think I can support it. What I could support is deferral to go back, make that bedroom into a wet room and delegate to officers to pass. To me, that’s the main sticking point.”

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The proposal attracted fierce public opposition, largely because its location is in the town’s ‘cultural centre’ and opposite the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

Mr Baldwin told councillors that the development “is not a glorified slum”.

He said: “Shared living is on the rise and I am going to be serving that part of the market.”

But most councillors voted in favour of deferring the application.

Cllr Sutton shared his own experience of living in a bedsit during his teenage years.

He said: “I can’t say it was the most pleasant experience of my life living in one room with a friend and sharing a kitchen and bathroom. On the flip side, it was an experience I am pleased I had.

“It was of a time when I didn’t have many coppers to rub together, got me away from my parents and I started to live an independent life.”

He added: “If this [application] came forwards as a bedroom seven as a wet room toilet etc for that upper floor then I would’ve supported it wholeheartedly.

Cllr Ian Benny said he also lived in a bedsit when he moved to London as a 16-year-old and that he feels “very strongly” about the quality of life for the residents.

He said: “We don’t really look at the poor people that have got to live here.

“They’re all from foreign countries all over the world I am assuming and we are sticking them together, nine people in a house that was a family home.”

He added: “Of course this could be local people from Wisbech.

“But many come to Wisbech to work. Credit to them they come here to work in factories, work unsocial hours and do jobs that English people will not try.

“We treat them by chucking them in a building and we put nine people together.”

Cllr Benny said: “I have no problem with the HMO. What we have is the cramped conditions that we are looking to put people in.”

The building is a former probation office, and it had been argued the daily footfall as an HMO would be less that its previous use.

Cllr Benny added: “Mr Baldwin talks about the footfall when it was a probation office. Yes, it was higher footfall but it would not be outside office hours.

“If you live there, and there is a gentleman who lives next to it is going to have people coming all night and day.

“There are nine people. Those can easily have nine friends that could be 18 people or more in and out of that building a day. Would I want that next to me? No, I would not.”

If his application is unsuccessful, Mr Baldwin said the house will still become an HMO for six residents as this would not require planning permission.

To concerns raised about a listed building becoming an HMO, he also explained nearby properties had been similarly converted.

But Cllr Andrew Lynn said: “I have worked in those HMOs and they are all, because of the size and number of rooms, en-suite.”

He added: “So to me [2, Museum Square] shows a lack of amenities.”

The debate on October 28 also touched on other issues including refuse collection and parking.

The change of use proposal was also accompanied by a listed building application for internal and external alterations.

Both had been recommended for approval, but councillors voted for them to be deferred.