Home extensions do not usually spark controversy. But this week, a heated debate broke out in the Oldham council chambers over the proposal for a two-floor extension to a house in Failsworth.
The homeowner applied to extend at the front, side and rear, turning the house in Norfolk Crescent from a three-bed to a six-bed home.
Amendments to private homes rarely need to go through a council planning meeting. Most are decided on by council officers who can approve the planning proposal on the council’s behalf.
But after this proposal received 64 objections from surrounding neighbours and a total of 67 online comments, officers decided it was ‘in the public interest’ to discuss the case in public.
Other residents of Norfolk Crescent claimed the project was a ‘wolf in sheeps’ clothing’. Based on the plans, which feature no living room, five double bedrooms and one single, and a number of ensuite bathrooms, they suggested it was the applicant’s intention to turn the property into a house of multiple occupancy (HMO).
This would cause issues with parking and was “not in keeping with the character of the area”, according to the residents.
Coun Sandra Ball, who represents Failsworth West ward, spoke on behalf of the neighbours. She said: “All the residents that are either here tonight or watching at home believe this application is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. By submitting this application under the guise of a family home extension at this stage, the developer is trying to pull a fast one by using a loophole in the application system.
“We are all in the opinion it will indeed indeed become an HMO with up to 11 unrelated people living in the property. This has caused undue anxiety for many residents and has affected their mental health due to the worry that the future will bring.”
But Coun Ruji Sapna Surjan, who chaired the meeting, noted repeatedly to an increasingly vocal gallery that the council would not be able judge the application based on what it could be but only on the proposal presented.
She said: “We cannot determine an application based on what could potentially change in the future. Should councillors go against officers recommendation [to approve the proposal], there needs to be substantial planning reasons as to why.”
Under national UK planning law, if the house owner wanted to turn the home into a HMO after completing the renovations, they could do so for up to six people without needing to apply for planning permission, it was later established. But if the landlord wanted to rent to more than six, they would need to seek planning permission.
Meanwhile, the representative of the applicant pointed to a ‘personal’ vendetta as a reason for the number of objections.
Ahmed Choudhry of NADA architects said: “We are well aware of the number of objections from the local residents against this application and acting after reading through some of them stepped in and written objections and not from 66 to 62 individuals but from a smaller select few, which is unreasonable and acceptable.
“The applicant has also received personal threats of arson to the property, so this really has become personal.”
The claim was loudly refuted by a group of objectors who were sitting in the public gallery.
On the subject of the HMO, My Choudhry said: “I’d like to reiterate that this application is a regular householder application. However, I’d like to also highlight that the applicant would have relevant permitted rights for the property to be used for another purpose, even a HMO if necessary in the future.”
But he also noted that the project was in keeping with similar extensions in the same street.
He said: “There are approximately 38 two-storey house extensions within 200 yards of the site and a total of 18 extensions that are identical to our proposal put forward.”
A number of councillors shared the concerns of the neighbours. But ultimately the council approved the proposal, arguing that their hands were tied by UK law.
Coun Steven Bashforth, who abstained from voting, said: “I’m very uncomfortable with this, because I think that the developer, either by accident or by design, intends to create a large HMO. But that’s not what’s before us.
“I do believe that if this does become an HMO, it will change the character of the area. And I don’t think that’s acceptable. But we are governed by the law. And unfortunately, the law is on the side of the developer.”