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Bureaucracy Smothers Our Urban Villages

Tuesday September 2, 2014

Most people will delve into an obscure piece of legislation called Article 4 Direction only when every opportunity to watch paint dry has been fully explored. But this piece of bureaucracy originally intended to protect conservation areas is being used as a very blunt tool by Councils intent on solving some complex social issues.

Article 4 Direction means that any landlord seeking to convert a residential property into shared accommodation must apply for planning permission. Which in many areas of Newcastle will be refused. Our Council is intent on restoring areas like Jesmond, Gosforth and Heaton to their Victorian splendour with Mary Poppins style Nannies pushing prams and gents tipping their top hats.

Sadly for the Council, the world has moved on. Fewer large families and shifting socio-economic patterns mean that large four and five bedroom inner city houses are no longer regarded as attractive family homes. However they are exactly what our young professionals require in a house share since they are close to work, shops, restaurants and transport links. And one only has to look at Heaton to see the positive benefits young professionals can bring to a slightly faded Victorian neighbourhood. The shops, restaurants and amenities in Heaton are the envy of many a neighbourhood and it is young professionals who bring money and a social buzz to the area.

In defence of Article 4 Direction the Council claims it is making an impact upon anti-social behaviour, the proliferation of lettings boards, the build-up of rubbish and addressing ‘imbalanced and unsustainable communities’. Not sure what that last means, but the former problems may be addressed by traditional means. Policing for anti social behaviour, the enforcement of existing legislation for sale boards and bin collection more than once a fortnight for accumulated rubbish. Instead the Council seems determined to solve these problems with a stroke of the pen rather than with positive action.

Residents Associations are gleefully behind Article 4 Direction as they believe it will attract nice people to their streets and see the back of that urban menace, the student. Yes, when in doubt, blame the students, ignoring the fact that they pour millions of pounds into our economy during term time. But the days of the grotty student bedsit are also long gone. Students are now customers of their chosen University and are offered a broad range of high specification accommodation which is secure, comfortable, affordable and close to their place of learning.

There is a major housing shortage for young professionals in the north east and throughout the UK. Many choose not to saddle themselves with a mortgage early in their career, preferring to share with like minded individuals. Our Pro-Share Plus scheme where we match compatible young professionals seeking to house share has never been more in demand. These young professionals are responsible adults who will look after a high specification property and respect their neighbours. They bring life, vibrancy and money into neighbourhoods much in need of these things. This is the compelling argument in support of house sharing. Article 4 Direction is the hammer used by our Council to ensure large Victorian houses stand empty while young professionals are desperate to find somewhere nice to live.

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