Plans to turn bank into bedsits compared to ‘sardines’ – but it’s still going ahead

Controversial plans to convert a former bank into 11 bedsits have ‘reluctantly’ been passed by councillors, despite concerns about overcrowding. Proposals for the old Barclays branch, in Edgeley, were approved by Stockport council’s planning committee after members were told the scheme complied with the authority’s housing standards.

It means Manchester-based Lower Estates Ltd now has permission to turn the old Castle Street branch – vacant since 2014 – into an 11 bed ‘house in multiple occupation’, or ‘HMO’. The scheme – including a kitchen, laundry and basement that could be converted into a games room – was referred to the planning committee after local councillors raised concerns over bedsits being ‘crammed’ into the building.

But while members shared many of the same reservations, it was ultimately passed on the casting vote of chair Coun Steve Gribbon. Coun Gribbon told the meeting: “I don’t like this – I think it’s ‘sardines’, it really is – but I can’t see a viable, clear reason to do so [refuse].

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“I don’t think any of us is particularly comfortable with this but we are working within a framework which is hamstringing us.”

The committee was advised that refusing planning permission would be difficult to defend on appeal. The scheme was in line with council policies and no objections had been raised by housing standards or environmental health.

Coun Gribbon added: “If we defend our decision and lose we know what the financial implications could be. And, try as we might, we can’t find a viable reason to refuse this.

The former Barclays branch in Castle Street, Edgeley, Stockport.

“So with some frustration, and I will be honest, we are going to grant this – but there is a real reluctance.” The decision came after a stalemate vote in which six councillors were for approval and six were against.

Coun Wendy Meikle had made her opposition to the scheme plain. “I’m not in favour of HMOs, eleven people or more sharing a kitchen is just a backward step to me,” she said.

“The only good thing I can see in this application is that they all have an en suite – we have seen in the past where they are sharing a bathroom, come on. I am not in favour of this at all.”

Coun Graham Greenhalgh agreed: “This, I think is unacceptable for regular use,” he told the meeting.

“Someone described it as for transient works, but potentially those people are going to live there for years – and it’s tiny.”

And Coun Louise Heywood suggested the council may need to review its policies on space standards, given the dilemma the committee found itself in. She noted that local councillors’ main concerns were over the size of communal spaces – such as the kitchen – and the potential impact on future occupants’ quality of life.

“I think personally I am going to struggle to support the application as well for this reason,” she said. “On paper it appears to comply with the policies, so maybe we need to look at the policies.”

Applicants and members of the public are not invited to speak at Stockport council planning meetings.

However, Deborah Day, had addressed the central area committee earlier in the month. She had argued that all rooms were ‘more than adequate’ in size and the scheme went ‘above and beyond’ council requirements in many respects.

She also told councillors the applicant had worked hard to ensure a scheme that would bring 11 good quality homes to an area in need of such properties.

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Manchester Evening News – Stockport