PLANNING bosses have their ‘hands tied’ thanks to an ‘out of date’ and inaccurate policy on student flats.

Official figures were questioned by campaigners opposing plans for a seven-bedroom HMO (house in multiple occupation) in Neville’s Cross, Durham.

Their research suggested the plans for the property, in Potters Bank, breached rules barring more than a tenth of properties within a 100m radius being used as HMOs.

But Durham County Council’s planning department recommended approval of scheme as the council tax data it uses did not show it would take the area above the ten per cent threshold.

“I think we can see the policy might not be 100 per cent accurate and it probably doesn’t work in this situation,” said Coun Mark Davinson at Tuesday's area planning committee meeting.

“But that is the policy, that is what we work from and if we move away from that it will be even more of a problem for the council – everyone who has had something refused with that policy will come back and appeal. We have our hands tied.”

Opponents argued approval would impact on the social balance in the area and raised concerns about the loss of a family home.

They also claimed at least five out of 34 homes within 100m of the property are currently used as HMOs or student flats.

But planning officers said they could not accept the data from protestors as it was not ‘objective’.

The applicant, named as Nick Swift in reports for the panel, argued there were none within the area ‘defined by DCC’s own HMO map’.

Speaking on behalf of protestors, Coun Liz Brown claimed some landlord avoid registering their properties as HMOs or student flats to ‘save themselves paperwork’, despite council tax exemptions and discounts on offer for doing so.

She added: “It’s a sad fact no one in Durham knows exactly how many student properties there are in the city.

“It’s one of the priorities of the City of Durham Parish Council to research the number and arrive at a realistic total.

“We have reasonable concerns about the accuracy and robustness of the [council’s figures] and if [the committee] is concerned I suggest this application be deferred to allow figures to be checked.”

The committee voted to approve the plans.

Later in the meeting, members also voted in favour of a second HMO application for a property in Dryburn Hill.

But they refused a third application to extend an existing HMO in Whinney Hill on the grounds it would ‘unacceptably alter the character and scale of the host property’.