A new accreditation scheme for landlords in Guildford has been launched following work by a Liberal Democrat councillor. Under the new voluntary scheme landlords and agents have to meet certain standards of property maintenance and tackling anti-social behaviour and in return institutions like the University of Surrey promote these landlords to people looking for accommodation.
The scheme came from a council group led by Lib Dem Councillor Caroline Reeves and aims to raise standards in private rented accommodation both for tenants and for neighbours. The scheme is funded by Guildford Borough Council and the University of Surrey in partnership.
The new scheme is especially good news for Onslow neighbourhoods like Ashended, Dennisville and Guildford Park where the number of houses of multiple occupancy have increased dramatically in recent years.
Talking about the scheme, Cllr Caroline Reeves said:
“I have lived in the same house for 27 years, very close to the town centre, and have seen the changes in the community now that so many homes are let to families or tenants sharing.
“Houses of Multiple Occupancy or ‘HMOs’ are the only way that many can live in the town, and increasingly it’s young professionals not students who have to share. As a ward councillor, I receive complaints from both tenants and the neighbours of rented properties, and it seemed to me that there must be a way of ensuring that as an authority we can help all concerned.
“We worked together with the University of Surrey and Surrey Students’ Union and obtained input from all our further education bodies plus a number of agents and landlords, to design a scheme which will provide improved quality assurance for all landlords, letting agents, tenants and their neighbours.”
Under the Localism Act 2011 it’s now possible for local communities to develop and implement a neighbourhood plan introducing planning guidelines and requirements for their communities. After speaking to local residents it seems clear that getting a neighbourhood plan for Onslow would be the best way of dealing with multiple problems which currently slip through the cracks.
For example, in Ashenden and other estates it’s clear that there’s a problem with family homes being bought up and converted into houses of multiple occupancy with families being slowly priced out of the area, damaging the local community. Yet in other parts of the country where they’d had this problem neighbourhood plans have introduced policies to ensure balanced communities, such as Exeter.
Neighbourhood plans can also cover things like protecting green and community spaces, identifying ways in which the local area can be improved and which kind of developments should go where.
It’s not possible for a neighbourhood plan to contradict the council’s own Local Plan but it does provide a way for a community to decide what the local planning priorities are in detail.
The first step on the road to a Neighbourhood Plan is the creation of a representative Neighbourhood Forum and the last step is a binding local referendum on the proposed Neighbourhood Plan with lots of consultation, participation and drafting in between.
Unfortunately, with Guildford council’s decision to delay the finalisation of the Local Plan until after the general election it seems unlikely that any Neighbourhood Plan could be drawn up until the Local Plan’s been published. But that’s no reason that work on the preliminary step of setting up a Neighbourhood Forum couldn’t start before then.
So, if I’m elected next May I’ll do all I can to make sure that we get a Neighbourhood Plan for Onslow Ward. And between now and then I’ll be speaking to local residents about the idea to find people interested in forming a Neighbourhood Forum as a starting point. After all, something like this really needs to be led by members of the community and not just by politicians.