Conservative Councillor candidate Jeanna Parton has said she “strongly believes that students should be housed in specialist accommodation” in her promotional material advertising her running in the Wollaton East and Lenton Abbey by-election.
Parton believes students should be housed “in purpose-built blocks and preferably on campus or in the increasingly deserted City Centre” rather than in “poorly converted private housing” off campus.
She added: “Labour’s failure to plan for increased student numbers has not only blighted the provision of local private rented dwellings for ordinary folks, but has also led to numerous minor problems between them and students living next door.”
The local by-election will be held on the 4th April 2013, at a time when most students are away from Nottingham for Easter. All halls on University Park and Jubilee campuses (as well as most of BGP’s flats) lie within constituency boundaries.
Parton’s statements come at a time when Nottingham City Council’s Article 4 direction marks a victory for local campaigners.
The policy aims to reduce the number of properties in Nottingham designated as houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs). Detractors have described the ruling as a political manoeuvre which will not deliver the intended result of restoring traditional communities.
The number of students living in Nottingham city rose by 42% between 2002 and 2010, from 28,551 to 40,615. This remarkable increase led to a significant decline in the number of properties in Nottingham categorised as ‘family dwellings’ and a corresponding rise in the number of HMOs, houses occupied by unrelated tenants.
The Nottingham Action Group (NAG) argued that the rise in HMOs has created “unbalanced and unsustainable neighbourhoods dominated by transient tenants and absentee landlords”.
The group also raised their concerns to the Council about “rubbish, inadequate waste management… degraded streetscape, pressure on parking provision… anti-social behaviour, increased crime… and loss of community facilities”.
The Council, after a consultation period with members of the community beginning in March 2011, introduced Article 4 Direction on 11th March 2012. Under the new initiative, landlords will require planning permission to convert a property designated as a ‘family dwelling’ to an HMO.
Additionally, the planned construction of a ‘student mansion’ in Radford, featured in an article written in December 2012 by Impact editor Ben McCabe, is an example of the Council’s attempt to lure students away from areas with high concentrations of HMOs such as Lenton and Dunkirk.
Representatives from the Council corroborated the concerns of local residents. Sue Davis, a Planning Officer, emphasised the important role played by Article 4 Direction in “maintaining a sustainable community”. She contended that certain areas of Nottingham had become “swamped by students”, and the Council are seeking to “turn the tide against that”.
Similarly, David Hobbs, Neighbourhood Environment Manager at the Council, believes that Article 4 Direction will “restore diversity in the community”, estimating that in some areas of Nottingham 90% of houses are occupied by students.
However, Dan Walker, a partner at CP Walker & Son, a Nottingham lettings agency, and Chair of East Midlands Property Owners Association, argued that levels of anti-social behaviour among Nottingham’s students are comparatively low.
“We have far worse problems with anti-social behaviour in others areas, e.g. areas where there is a proliferation of social housing.”
Moreover, Walker sees the Council’s implementation of Article 4 Direction as “closing the door after the horse has bolted”. He said that “the ‘battle’ in Lenton and Dunkirk has already been lost”.
He stressed that Article 4 Direction is largely political: “The problem in the city is that democracy doesn’t work. The way the boundaries work mean that the Council is only ever going to be Labour.
“They can do whatever they want. There is a core of two or three people that make decisions and run the city… and the local Councillors in Lenton and Dunkirk are particularly anti-student.”
In a letter to the Council written in October 2012, the SU’s Accommodation and Community Officer Sian Green highlighted the relatively low level of complaints directed towards Nottingham’s students. She stipulated that 96% of student HMOs do not generate noise complaints.
Green was critical of the Council’s plans to move students to purpose built accommodation.
“There are problems that arise from purpose built accommodation such as the lack of community, the noise and the effect on surrounding communities, transport to and from these places, waste, and so forth.”
Walker was also sceptical: “Students have as much right to choose where they want to live as any other member of the community. They are being treated appallingly by the Council”.
In 2011, the SU’s ‘How Can We Help’ survey, showed the widespread reaction to these measures amongst UoN students. 93% claimed that it is their right to choose where and what type of accommodation they live in and 7% said that this is the right of the Council.
Students said that the top three factors they look for in a house are location, price and safety.
Over half of those surveyed favoured privately rented student houses with a quarter declaring that they would stay in halls of residence or purpose built accommodation.
As the Council seek to ameliorate the effects of societal changes, Nottingham’s students may see a considerable overhaul in how accommodation is organised in the coming years.
Additional Reporting By Erica Doro
SU Opposes Council’s Student Accommodation Plans