However there was a lot of money to be made if this project could be pushed through and the landlord was not going to give in without a fight – but then neither were we.
We were informed that he had put in appeal against the decision of the Planning Department and a hearing was scheduled for 10 March 2009. If he won that appeal the council would not be able to stop the conversion of those houses or any others in the same area.
The appeal was before an Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate, John Murray, LLb, Dip.Plan.Env., DMS, Solicitor, and those present were from the Planning Enforcement and Housing Departments opposing these developments together with members of the fledgling organisation calling itself COVEN and two ward councillors (Cllrs Brett and Pryke (Lib Dem). The landlord was represented by his company Green Investments Ltd.
I do not think that the landlord was prepared for the strength or breadth of opposition from the council, councillors or COVEN. They appeared to be under the impression that it would be easy to overturn the decision and that they would then be able to use that ruling to turn innumerable other tiny properties into ‘flats’ for which they would then be able to charge the council’s Homelessness Unit a minimum of £174 per week.
At the heart of this matter was money. A single family dwelling, as both these properties had been before they were converted without planning permission, would attract a rent of £400 per month, as 3 flats they would have a rental income of around £2,250 per month. It is not hard to see the advantage to the landlord.
The Inspector appointed to hear the appeal listened to submissions from the council and the landlord and also from the residents. He gave us a chance to refute their points, item by item, on lack of space; noise; overcrowding; safety and the lack of facilities generally in the area to cope with such an influx of extra residents.
Green Investments Ltd tried to imply that other conversions in the area, which the council had approved, set some kind of precedent but we were able to show that in fact these conversions (for which they alleged they had the blessing of our local MP), were in fact in Harehills and applied to an entirely different style of house and a completely different kind of conversion. The MP in question was not in fact our MP who as it happens did not back this conversion at all.
After inspecting the properties and speaking to some of the residents of one house he went away to consider his decision and on the 17 March 2009 we heard the official result from the Inspector – we had done it, we had won! Unbelievably the residents, with council backing, had taken on one of the most powerful landlords dragging our area down and proved that he could be stopped.
Though the inspector gave the landlord slightly longer than the council had wanted to return the houses to their original state, he was told unequivocally that he had to do it. However this landlord is not one to follow procedure and though he eventually removed the tenants he left the properties insecure and they soon became a focus for anti social behaviour, with COVEN having to request that the council step in and board the properties up on more than one occasion. Eventually the houses were sold but most of the remedial work was not done until the day before the sale.
However this has not solved the problem, we did not think it would, there is just too much money to be made from turning tiny unsuitable back-t0-back family homes into dormitory ‘flats’ on short term lets for largely emergency council lets and the ones raking in the money are not the ones having to put up with the consequences of their actions.
We formed ourselves in to COVEN to make a difference and to stand up for our community. We have had successes and failures but we won’t give in, our area has so much going for it. Its unique geographical position alone should assure its prosperous future and as some of the residents of this area we intend to do our best to see that we and other residents get a say in and a fair share of that bright future.