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Year long ban on new Inverness city centre bed-sits

By Andrew Dixon

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Mike Smith
Mike Smith

A ONE-YEAR ban on Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Inverness city centre has been controversially approved amid concerns over antisocial and criminal behaviour by tenants.

Businesses believe the number of HMOs is partly linked to the high incidence of people begging and drinking on city streets and stealing to fund their addiction, claiming the anti-social behaviour is hitting their trade.

Inverness Business Improvement District (BID), which backed the ban, provided 184 of the 199 responses to a six-week Highland Council consultation on the future of HMOs.

But yesterday it stressed the moratorium would not solve the ongoing problems. “Businesses won’t see this as a solution,” said BID manager Mike Smith.

“They will see it as an opportunity to create a solution. It is just a starting point.”

There are about 150 beds in HMO properties in High Street, Church Street and Union Street, housing homeless people, many with drug and alcohol problems.

The ban is designed to provide an opportunity for a wider review of the arrangements for those HMO residents causing the problems and Mr Smith insisted retailers would welcome anything that would ease the situation.

“It’s the businesses and their customers who are experiencing the problems and they have expressed their views very forcibly that there needs to be better controls,” he added.

The move, which was predicted in Friday’s Inverness Courier, was unanimously agreed by the council’s planning, environment and development committee despite some members voicing concerns.

Councillor Thomas Prag acknowledged the ban would not solve the problems, but would provide a breathing space, while other councillors were concerned at the loss of potential housing.

Last week Highland Homeless Trust director Dr Paul Monaghan said a moratorium would not have any impact on antisocial behaviour in the city centre and that HMO tenants were being unfairly blamed for the problems.

Stringent criteria to enable assessment of whether the ban changes anything were called for by Councillor Donnie Kerr.

He said Inverness area police commander Graeme Murdoch had informed him there was no direct correlation between the increase in general disorder so far this year and those in HMOs and crimes directly attributable to HMO residents would appear to have declined this year.

“I actually see more antisocial behaviour associated with licensed premises but I don’t see a moratorium on that,” said Councillor Kerr. “A lot of complaints are miss-perception and nimbyism is one of the most chronically spreading diseases, worse than myxomatosis.”

Chief inspector Murdoch refused to comment on the statistics but said police were involved with the city’s new community safety partnership, which continues to look at perceived problems linked to city HMOs.

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