Agenda item


            (The Committee agreed to consider these two items simultaneously.)


            The HMO Unit Manager outlined the reports to consider applications for two Licences permitting the use of premises as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) at Flat 1 and Flat 2, 6 Sandhurst Road, Belfast, BT7 1PW.


            He reminded the Committee that, at its meeting in April 2023, it had acceded to a request from the applicant’s legal representative to defer consideration of this applications until a future meeting to provide them with additional time to consider the Committee report and take instruction from their client. Officers subsequently applied to the county court to allow the Council additional time to consider the application which the court granted until 10th July, 2023.


            He advised that suitability of living accommodation for multiple occupation, in determining whether living accommodation was suitable for occupation as an HMO, the Council must have regard amongst other things to:


(a) the accommodation's location;

(b) the type and number of persons likely to occupy it;

(c) the safety and security of persons likely to occupy it; and

(d) the possibility of undue public nuisance.


            He highlighted the Notice of Proposed Decision stated that the Council proposed to refuse the licence on the basis that it was not satisfied the living accommodation was suitable for use as an HMO pursuant to section 8(2)(e) and section 13 of the 2016 Act and a statement of reasons for the proposal was included in the Notice of Proposed Decision.


            He advised that the accommodation of the two flats was in HMO Policy Area HMO 2/22 Botanic, Holylands, Botanic. The properties were situated in a primarily residential area, however, the adjacent property at “Lilac House” 4 Sandhurst Road was the independent living and advice centre of the charity Autonomie, which worked with young people (16-30 years) with a physical and/or mild to moderate learning disabilities. He stated that Autonomie also offered vital practical and emotional support to families raising a child or young person with disabilities. He advised that Fitzroy Court was located at the junction of Fitzroy Avenue and Sandhurst Road, which was a block of 25 retirement flats operated by Choice Housing. The boundary of Fitzroy Court was approximately 20m diagonally opposite 6 Sandhurst Road.


            The HMO Unit Manager advised that Officers had consulted with the Police Service for Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) and had received information regarding the calls they had received to the accommodation, including the number and types of incidents.


            He advised that, on 21st June, the Council had received further information from the applicant’s solicitor which included:


·        A letter of support from the Probation Board Northern Ireland for the renewal of Licence at Queen’s Quarter Hostel IV Unit, to allow for their continued service delivery;

·        Service User rules for Queen’s Quarter Housing;

·        Licence agreements to occupy temporary accommodation for Queen’s Quarter Housing; and

·        Queens Quarter Housing Warnings and Exclusion Policy and Referral Procedure.


            He raised concerns in relation to the new information which had been received and stated that there was no reference in the fire risk assessment submitted with this application (dated 12th October, 2022) to individuals with arson convictions being housed in the accommodation.


               He advised that the Council was required to have regard to the safety and security of persons likely to occupy it, and the applicant had already disclosed that there had been incidents of violence at the accommodation.


            The HMO Unit were not aware of there being an IV Unit at 6 Sandhurst Road. If such a unit was in-situ, this would be a material as part of the fire risk assessment and was not mentioned in the FRA submitted on 12th October, 2022 with the applications.


            The Committee received a representation from Sgt. K. Morton and PC. D. Watson, representing the PSNI. They drew Members attention to the incident log which provided detail of reported incidents linked to the properties. They described the community impact of the accommodation being used as a HMO, together with the pressure on Policing to safeguard the area.


            During discussion, one Member highlighted the critical need for Hostel accommodation and that Queen’s Quarter Housing had a long track record of providing this accommodation on behalf of the NIHE.


            The Committee received a representation from Ms. L. Morrison, Chief Executive, Autonomie, objecting to the application. She advised that Autonomie was located at 4 Sandhurst Road from 2014 and was a charity which provided support for complex needs persons, who were a very vulnerable group. She summarised her objections to the application and suggested that both staff and clients had been regularly verbally abused whilst entering the building by those standing outside 6 Sandhurst Road and drug deals had also been witnessed outside the property. She advised that they had to adapt to the situation by installing CCTV and staff now did not want to work alone, due to the fear of leaving the building. She also highlighted the need to safeguard the clients and parents of Autonomie.


            During Members’ questions, Ms. Morrison explained further the impact of the Hostel’s residents on the staff and clients of Autonomie.


            The Committee received a representation from Ms. L. Smyth, and Mr. P. MacDermott representing the applicant. Ms Smyth advised that the accommodation provided a service on behalf of the NIHE and was funded by the Department for Communities. She stated that Queen’s Quarter Housing had provided services for over 20 years and managed at least six properties within the Holylands area and had worked well with the Council too.


            She suggested that this was the first time some of the issues had been raised with Queen’s Quarter Housing and it would have been helpful if direct engagement could have happened to address the issues.


            She suggested that the people that were being housed in the HMO accommodation were extremely vulnerable and required assistance. She questioned where Hostel residents should be housed and suggested that any concerns for this application could be managed via conditions and enforcement action, and it would be premature to refuse the application.


            She suggested that some important aspects of the Committee Reports had not been brought to the Committee’s attention and outlined the referral policy and the agreements that were put in place with residents of the HMO, before being housed in the accommodation.


            She also suggested that the majority of the objections were on behalf of Autonomie.


            During Members’ questions, she suggested that the Committee should not conflate wider issues of anti-social behaviour of the area to just the application properties and reiterated that safeguards could be put in place.


            In response to this, Ms. Morrison suggested that Autonomie had a log of incidents linked to 6 Sandhurst Road, together with CCTV and reported evidence and highlighted the need to protect the young clients of Autonomie.


During discussion, Ms. Smyth confirmed the property would not be used as an IV Unit but would provide a safe space for residents to dispose of used needles.


            During further discussion, a Member highlighted the vulnerability of those who might reside in the accommodation and those potentially affected by the HMO due to their proximity to the accommodation and highlighted the need to investigate the strategic context of the issues which had been raised, including what housing model worked best for vulnerable adults, where do initiatives such as the Supporting People programme and the Complex Lives project fit in, current supply and demand of hostel accommodation and the spread of hostel accommodation across the city. 




Moved by Councillor Gormley,

Seconded by Alderman McCoubrey and,


      Resolved - The Committee agrees to defer consideration of the applications to enable officers to explore the strategic context of the issues which had been raised in relation to this application and the wider Hostel accommodation in Belfast, and to present this information at a future meeting.


            Accordingly, the Committee agreed to defer consideration of the two applications for new Licences to operate a House of Multiple Occupation for Flat 1 and Flat 2, 6 Sandhurst Road, Belfast, BT7 1PW, to enable officers to explore the strategic context of the issues which had been raised in relation to this application and the wider Hostel accommodation in Belfast, and to present this information at a future meeting.


Due to the legislation requirement to determine HMO applications within three months, and in light of the new evidence which had been received from the applicant, the Committee also agreed that the City Solicitor would seek authority from the Court to extend further the period to determine the applications and noted that consent from the applicant had been received to do so.


The Committee also noted that a Special Meeting of the Committee might be required to consider the applications, subject to Court approval and timeframes.


Supporting documents: