The comments were made during part of a Preston City Council meeting dedicated to answering questions from the public.
A virtual session of the full council heard concern from a Plungington local that growth in so-called ‘houses of multiple occupation’ (HMOs) over the past 15 years had left the area “without much community spirit, because the students were transient and without a sense of ownership”.
The resident suggested – in comments which were read out on their behalf – the chair of the meeting – that one problem was being replaced with another now that more UCLan students were instead living on campus in halls of residence.
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“Landlords have begun renting or selling properties to housing companies which, amongst other things, find homes for vulnerable people with complex and high needs. This has brought its own challenges – including parking chaos, untidy streets with overgrown gardens and overspilling bins, [and] a lot of anti-social behaviour.”
The meeting heard that Preston City Council had taken up the flexibility offered in planning legislation which allows local authorities to require full planning applications for the creation of HMOs with six or fewer people in designated areas – when these could otherwise be established under permitted development rights without seeking permission.
Cabinet member for planning, Peter Moss, said that this meant the usual planning process applied to HMOs of that size in the largely terrace streets around the city centre and the university – and that concerns like those raised by residents were material issues for the authority to consider.
He said that “unscrupulous landlords” could exacerbate problems in particular areas and called for more robust powers to be handed to councils from the government. However, Cllr Moss stressed the importance of UCLan to the city.
“It’s no accident that places with a university are more economically, socially and culturally vibrant than those that don’t have one – and certainly UCLan is one of the anchor institutions for the economy of Preston.
“I’m sure it’s not pleasant for the vast majority of residents who take pride in the area they live when a few spoil it and treat the area with such a lack of respect,” he added.
Members also heard a call from another Plungington local for closer co-operation between agencies to tackle “a spike in serous and violent crime connected to drugs and prostitution”.
The resident praised both the city council and police for taking action in recent weeks after the area hit the headlines amid concerns over drug dealing – but said that “far more” needed to be done.
Cabinet member for the environment, Robert Boswell, revealed that a project to analyse police data and incident trends in Plungington was about to report its findings and that the area had been considered as part of plans to establish a “multi-agency serious violence plan” for Preston.
He added that a community cohesion project was about to be rolled out and that the city council’s parks team had been in the area cleaning up this week.
“Obviously, we can always do more to build a real and meaningful involvement with various stakeholders and we can always improve our sharing of information across agencies,” Cllr Boswell said.
He also praised Plungington’s three ward councillors – council leader Matthew Brown, fellow cabinet member Nweeda Khan and Cllr Pav Akhtar – for their efforts in responding to the concerns of the community.