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Is this the beginning of the end for Cathays as a student heartland?

CATHAYS is well-known as Cardiff’s most student-filled district but big changes could be in store.

New planning rules will make it harder to convert family homes into shared Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) in which many Cardiff students live.

Cathays councillor Christopher Weaver said: “The over-concentration of HMOs leads to “minimum-standard” accommodation and excessive development, as landlords have tried to fit as many tenants in as possible. Because of this, waste and parking problems increase.

“We need a mix of housing to keep a sustainable community year round – it’s good for tenants, their neighbours, and local businesses. The new legislation will allow greater control to ensure Cathays remains a mixed community with a balance of housing.”

The new planning rules, combined with the two huge student tower blocks being built in the city centre, could see future students choosing to live outside Cathays.

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The new rules mean planning permission will be needed to convert a family home into an HMO of three or more people, previously permission was only required for HMOs of six or more. The rule changes form part of the Council’s new Local Development Plan and are due to be published in draft on February 25.

Council planning officers have already been tightening up their position on HMO conversions in anticipation. In the last two months four applications to convert family houses into HMOs have been turned down and many more applications have been withdrawn, councillors say.

The changes follow an independent report  looking at the impact of HMOs on communities in Wales which said: “Competition for investment properties had affected local housing markets and there had been considerable concern among communities because of issues such as anti-social behaviour, noise, parking, refuse, poorly maintained properties and gardens and so on.

“The character of many neighbourhoods had changed, reflecting the greater transience of households.”

However the report also noted a recent shift in student populations, saying: “In all authorities it was notable that purpose-built student accommodation had increasingly come on stream in the very recent past and this was now having some impact in demand for student HMOs in the private rented sector.

“The interviews did show there was evidence of  ‘de-studentification’ starting to occur in some locations.”

The plans received a mixed reception from locals discussing the issue on the streetlife.com website.

Tasha Panda said: “Having lived in HMOs as a student in the North West, and now as a professional in Cardiff, I have never experienced a high level of anti-social behaviour. If anything I think it is a brilliant idea for those moving out for the first time and creates a sense of community all of its own. Remember: a revolving community is STILL a community, as is a student community.”

Dave R said: “Cardiff has now made itself dependent on students to some extent. I don’t live in Cathays but I would be reluctant to as it seems very transient in terms of community.

“Cynically, I do think the council has now got increased powers in order to drive students into the vast amounts of student accommodation that are being built in the city centre. This may help Cathays to become more of a stable community but I fear for the effects on the city centre.”

Sion D said: “Students bring business and keep the local economy going strong, many would go bust if they didn’t have the volume of students they do now.”

Iain L said: “The issue should not be about students (or any type of person) but about the form of tenure and is effects on the neighbourhood. In essence, the problem is with short term forms of tenure that don’t encourage tenants to take any interest in it.

“There’s no doubt that the council made a big mistake in allowing such a huge proportion of HMOs which, generally, provide pretty poor accommodation. And they’re part of a bigger problem which is the overall standard and cost of private rentals in the inner city areas.”

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