MORE properties on the English Riviera are being turned into low-rent, all-year-round shared accommodation in prime locations, warn tourism businesses as they struggle to stay open.
And they claim planning proposals aimed at preventing smaller B&Bs and guest houses from conversion to residential will only increase the number of houses in multiple occupation in the Bay — already above the national average.
They are lobbying for Torbay Council's new draft Local Plan to mirror the Bay's adopted tourism policy which calls for a cut in the number of bed spaces in the Bay to make the remainder more competitive.
Torbay Council is proposing that controls on change of use are retained in both prime and other areas of the Bay. The tourism industry is supporting the controls in core areas only.
Stuart Lewton, owner of Commodore B&B on Paignton's Esplanade is spokesman for the 50-strong Bridge Group buying consortium of hotels. He says rather than protecting prime holiday areas, the policy is condemning them to a rash of HMOs. They say owners will not be able to maintain the profitability of their businesses or to be able to sell and redevelop their properties as quality flats that such prime areas would attract.
Mr Lewton said occupancy rates in accommodation of between four and ten bedrooms is at an all-time low, some 27 per cent, and Torbay has the second largest concentration of hotels and B&Bs in the country after Blackpool.
Mr Lewton said: "Allowing holiday accommodation in prime area to convert to luxury residential apartments and houses will make the upkeep of our prime areas more sustainable and more attractive to tourists and residents alike, including out of season. If we provide high-quality developments then we will get high-quality residents. Torbay needs more middle-band earners to bring prosperity to the towns. "
He said Torbay had Principal Holiday Accommodation Areas since the 1980s. "However, due to lack of enforcement and policing by the council, they have not protected our tourism environment as was expected, they had the opposite effect," he claimed. "The draft Torbay Plan admits that we have 1,450 HMOs and 83 licensable HMOs, about 2.3 per cent of Torbay's housing stock, above the national rate of about 1.6 per cent."
He said of the 39 properties in one of Paignton's most-protected zones, 13 already have residential status. At least three are now HMOs after getting a certificate of lawful use, which could be gained after 10 years' use. Now, new planning legislation means property owners can get a certificate after only four years of use.
Torbay Council confirmed there are 86 licensed HMOs in Torbay and one in the process of currently being licensed. Licences are reconsidered on a rolling five year programme and renewed as appropriate.
The licensing scheme came in around five years ago, previously a licence was not required. The number has remained relatively static over recent years, although an additional eight properties were identified within the last year as part of a proactive programme. Monitoring is carried out to review the current status of licensed HMOs.
This is done to help identify the number of properties that potentially require a licence, using a variety of data sources and intelligence. As a result investigations are carried out. Within the last 12 months nine additional properties had been identified. Eight have now been licensed, says the council.
When licensed a property is fully inspected. An interim visit is also made to ensure standards are met.
Mayor Gordon Oliver agreed an additional £100,000 to tackle problem landlords and drive up all accommodation standards in Torbay, including all private rented accommodation.
A Torbay Council spokesman said: "These and the many other comments we have received during the public consultation process with be fully considered and the plan changed if necessary."