Express & Star

Council overruled over controversial 21-bed HMO plan for disused pub

A government inspector has overruled the council and allowed a controversial plan to convert a former pub into a 21-bed HMO to go ahead.

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Angry residents protested against the plans outside the Hollybush last year

Sandwell Council’s planning committee rejected a move to create a 21-bed house of multiple occupation (HMO) and two houses at the former Hollybush pub in The Uplands, Smethwick earlier this year – blaming a fear that its residents would bring ‘drug dealing, violence and anti-social behaviour’ to the neighbourhood.

Having seen councillors turn down his plan, the applicant, only known as Mr G Dillon, then appealed to the government’s planning inspectors, who have the power to overrule Sandwell Council and approve the work, and won.

Some of the area’s elderly residents were concerned a new HMO would cause problems such as shoplifting and harassment, describing regular scenes of ‘vehicles coming all day and night,’ the ‘constant smell of cannabis’ and garden ornaments, post and parcels all stolen.

The planning inspector Simon Rawle said the work would “undoubtedly” improve the look of the area and he had “no reason to doubt” that the HMO would be well run.

The inspector said the biggest point of contention was whether converting the former pub into a HMO would create more crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour – the reason cited by Sandwell Council’s planning committee as its reason for turning the plan down.

The inspector admitted that shared accommodation could create a “degree of friction” between residents but the HMO had been “appropriately and thoughtfully laid out” and “well designed” and overruled Sandwell Council’s planning committee.

West Midlands Police did not object to the application – providing “helpful and constructive observations and recommendations” according to the inspector – and suggested installing CCTV as an extra security measure.

A 300-signature petition was handed to the planning committee in January when the plan was discussed and then rejected by councillors.

It was the second time councillors had discussed the application having delayed a decision in November 2022 to take a look at the site.