In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

The Article Flawed Direction

When I was knocking on doors in the run-up to the 2011 local election, I was occasionally confronted by the issue of student housing from concerned constituents. Their complaints were highly varied, from students being too noisy to worries about the state of properties under the care of indifferent landlords. In response to these worries, local politicians have often proposed rather radical policies that are detrimental to students. For example, in 2010, the Bath Liberal Democrats proposed to force all the students from both University of Bath and Bath Spa University in their first and last years to live in purpose-built accommodation, either on campus or in city blocks like John Wood Court. Now, Liberal Democrat-controlled Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) Council has appointed a consultant to find the best way to use planning laws to stem the number of family homes being converted into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

When student halls seem overcrowded, will restricting housing in multiple occupancy be a good idea? (Photo thanks to the University of Exeter, found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26126239@N02/6959178767/sizes/l/in/photostream/)

The main proposal is for the Council to use an Article 4 Direction, meaning landlords would require planning consent to convert their properties into HMOs. It follows a similar move by the City of York Council, who voted unanimously in February 2011 to apply an Article 4 Direction across York. This consultant has met with councillors in the Oldfield Park area, which has the highest density of students living there outside of the two university campuses. A national curb on the number of HMOs there could be within an authority was  put forward by the last Labour government, but the Coalition government scrapped this idea following the election. Nevertheless, all the major parties in Bath agree with the concept of moving more students out of city homes to free them up for families.

This policy would not just affect students, but also groups of young professionals, who are the other main user of these types of houses. Alan Ward, head of the Residential Landlords Association, who said to the Bath Chronicle, “Small houses in multiple occupation have an important role to play in housing the increasing number of students attending university, and many young professionals, such as nurses, for whom home ownership is simply unaffordable.” The Residential Landlords Association has unequivocally opposed this plan, stating it will drive up rents whilst lowering house prices in areas upon application of a strict limit of HMOs. The curb on HMOs is also not retrospective, meaning that it will not decrease density of HMOs in areas like Oldfield Park, which are pejoratively referred to as “student ghettos”.

There are several serious problems that some students do cause within the city for its residents, ranging from drunken deterioration and absent bin collections to fly tipping and perceived council underfunding. The Bath University Student’s Union has responded to this kind of conduct with major campaigns such as “Be a Good Neighbour“, begun by former SU President Alex Nicholson-Evans, which continues today. There is also the sense that such a high concentration of students within one road or area is in effect transforming the familiar into the alien. This has left what Caroline Flint MP, former Local Government Minister, “ghost towns following the summer student exodus”. Errant behaviour, coupled with well-known student stereotypes, has led to a general mistrust of students, and quite a vocal antipathy towards students. However, this often goes beyond banter, such as the Bath Chronicle headlining an article about Bath Upchuck, a charity event held on campus, with “Students throw up – in a good way”.

It is depressing that the idea of curbing student housing has risen from the pyre once again, but as long as residents associated Bath students with disorder, this idea will continue to burn. We should be good neighbours and positive contributors to our communities, not usurpers of this historic city. Bath is a great city which we all love, and we are bound to share it with those who are more permanently based here. We are transients, but that does not mean we care for Bath any less than our neighbours do, so we should treat Bath and its people as well as our own home. However, students should not accept this proposal, not matter which party claims it as their own.

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