A BID to cut the amount of new HMOs that can be built in York neighbourhoods is “populist student bashing” and would threaten the city’s long-awaited Local Plan, according to a senior councillor.

Cllr Nigel Ayre hit out at Cllr Mark Warters and fellow councillors who had called on the council’s executive to reconsider its decision not to review its policy around the density of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) – despite all councillors voting to do so in December.

At that, meeting councillors said they would look to cut the “acceptable percentage thresholds” of new HMOs in streets and neighbourhoods by half.

Cllr Ayre said government inspectors’ patience with York’s Local Plan, which includes the HMO policy and is being examined by experts this week, was now “wafer thin”.

“This is York’s last opportunity for a local, democratically approved, Local Plan,” he said.

“I cannot understand why anyone would risk tearing that up and throwing it away.”

Neil Ferris, corporate director of place at City of York Council, said: “Effectively, you’ve just done your A-levels, you’ve done all your paper, the stop clock’s gone and you’ve submitted it – you can’t go up to the examiner and say ‘do you mind if I change the answer I’ve given to question three please?’”

But Cllr Michael Pavlovic said the Local Plan was a “fig leaf”.

“I am sorry to say that despite this being a significant issue for many residents that this administration appears not to really care about HMO density in this city,” he added.

Cllr Warters, who has long called for changes to the rules, said: “I’ve watched as Tang Hall has been destroyed as a working class community.

“Clearly the unrestrained expansion of student numbers at York University is distorting the local housing market.”

The council’s executive has said a review could happen after the Local Plan is adopted, but councillors on the customer and corporate services scrutiny management committee argued that would take too long.

Committee chairman Cllr Jonny Crawshaw said the impact of a transient population on a street can be “enormous” and that communities had been “decimated”.

“That’s why there’s a sense of frustration and anger – and I agree completely that it’s sometimes misdirected at students,” he added. 

Cutting in half the current threshold of up to 20 per cent of all properties being HMOs across a neighbourhood and 10 per cent at street level would allow the council more control, Cllr Crawshaw said.

Cllr Aisling Musson said there was “a lack of political will” to tackle the issue.

She said: “We can say the reason we’re not going to do this now is that we’re on the eve of the Local Plan, but what’s been the excuse for the last 10 years when the damage has been done? And what is the further damage that’s going to be done while we still haven’t acted?”

Cllr Christian Vassie said: “Do I think it’s something that we need to look at? Absolutely, I think everyone agrees and the executive has agreed that today – it’s really a question of timing.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Ayre said: “We absolutely appreciate the concerns presented by property conversion and HMO management, which is why work is under way to improve data management as well as licensing and regulatory powers. The issue at the core of these concerns is the enforcement of existing policies rather than an introduction of different threshold guidance with no evidence base behind it.”

He added: “To risk tearing up the draft local plan would do nothing to support the enforcement of HMO policies, but would rather risk giving control of our city’s future to an unaccountable figure in Whitehall, far removed from understanding York’s challenges and opportunities – this would be simply unacceptable.”