Leeds HMO Lobby
What is a HMO?
Studentification in Leeds
Use Classes Order
Students & Community
National HMO Lobby
Leeds HMO Lobby
Headingley is famous around the world for its sporting associations
(like Wimbledon and Wembley). Nationally, it is renowned, not only
for cricket, but also for rugby. Locally, in Leeds, it was long
admired as a socially diverse suburb. But in the summer of 2003,
a councillor from elsewhere in the city said ‘The awful warning
of Headingley is always before us’ (Cllr Peter Harrand, Yorkshire
Evening Post, 5 June 2003).
What went wrong? How has Headingley’s local reputation plummeted
so low? In short, the expansion of higher education has happened.
The experience of Headingley is a classic instance of admirable
intentions entailing disastrous consequences.
Headingley began life as a village in the vicinity of Leeds. As
the town expanded, the village became an attractive suburb to live
in, and the first omnibus in the city ran to Leeds’ ‘Number
One Suburb’ (the number 1 bus still runs through Headingley).
The architecture of the area bears witness to its history. Old field
patterns survive in the street plans. Victorian mansions survey
Airedale from Headingley Hill. Below, ranks of terraces march up
the slopes. Between, interwar semis now fill the grounds of many
a mansion. (We also have our share of modern monstrosities.) Woodhouse
Moor, once a wilderness, and the site of a Civil War battle, is
now a suburban park. The diversity of the environment was matched
by the diversity of the culture. Working class communities lived
beside the chattering academic classes, young professionals beside
arrivals from the Indian sub-continent, among them all lived students
from the university down the road.
All this has changed. Who caused the changes? (1) The government
set an ambitious (and admirable) target of 50% uptake of higher
education. But they gave no thought to the implications. (2) The
HEIs (higher education institutions) expanded rapidly. The student
population of Leeds has more than doubled in the last decade, and
outside London, is second only to Birmingham. But the two universities
in Leeds have had no strategy for housing their students. (3) The
PRS (private rented sector), like flies in a farmyard, has seized
on the expanding student market. Property agencies have increased
from eight to forty. (4) LCC (Leeds City Council) has only belatedly
recognised the implications for the city of what was happening.
Efforts are now being made, but the local authority’s powers
are limited. (5) So we return to the government, which has neither
funded the universities adequately to manage their expansion, nor
given local authorities sufficient housing and planning powers to
cope with the consequences.
What has happened in Headingley? We lie at the heart of the north-west
segment of Leeds, with the universities at its point. The A660 runs
like an artery down the middle. To accommodate its students, the
University of Leeds has developed halls of residence along this
route. Students moving out have settled along the same arterial
corridor. The result is a massive expansion of PRS student housing
in Headingley. At the beginning of the ‘90s, students comprised
about 20% of the population. By the end of the decade, this had
exploded to 50%. The result is that the neighbourhood is now dominated
by a population which is young (late teens/early twenties),
seasonal (here for only two-thirds of the year) and transient
(moving every year, leaving after three). The key problem therefore
is the demographic imbalance of Headingley.
This has two major effects, a ‘double whammy’. On the
one hand, a whole range of problems arise, in our society, our environment
and our economy, as direct and indirect results of this imbalance.
The three key issues are Crime, Squalor and a Resort Economy. The
burglary rate is the highest in the country; and noise, damage and
evacuation are endemic. Headingley has the worst refuse problem
in the city; and streets are blighted by neglected properties and
derelict gardens, letting boards and security grilles. Pubs, take-aways
and convenience foods dominate the shopping centre; and family shops
struggle to survive the seasonal market. The farmyard ethos imposes
disproportionate demands on service providers (policing, cleansing,
Such problems are usually tackled, not by government, but by the
local community. (If the state has to intervene, you really are
in trouble.) But the imbalance undermines the sustainability of
the community. We suffer Negative Migration, Absenteeism and Community
Decline. Residents who leave are not replaced by newcomers (they
can’t afford house prices inflated by the letting market).
Increasingly, the neighbourhood is owned and occupied by people
who don’t live here, disempowering residents. The experience
of the old is marginalised, there are fewer activists, the numbers
of children (our future) decrease. Closure of schools (heart of
any community) is a symptom of the crisis.
These problems in Leeds, and in other towns like Nottingham, have
caught the attention of the national press, including The Guardian,
The Observer, The Times, The Independent and The
Nevertheless, the community has responded. Long-established residents’
associations, like South Headingley Community Association and North
Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association, have taken the new problems
on board. In the 1990s, new associations were founded, like HEAL
(Headingley Against Landlordism, now Heal Headingley) and Headingley
Network. Since then, local streets have set up their own defensive
groups (like The Turnways and Orville Gardens), and organisations
in neighbouring communities have joined the fray (Woodhouse, Kirkstall,
Meanwood). In 2000, these came together to establish Leeds
HMO Lobby, to co-ordinate action on our common problems.
Our focus is on the mechanism which permits the key problem (demographic
imbalance), that is, the accommodation of students in shared houses,
or houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
The Lobby’s strategy is twofold. Nationally, we take every
opportunity to lobby the government for new legislation: we want
a clear and comprehensive definition of HMO, we want them to be
licensed, and we want them subject to planning control. In doing
so, we have found allies around the country who share our concern
with HMOs, not only in university towns, but for other reasons elsewhere
too. The Housing Act of 2004
is our first real step forward: it defines and licences HMOs. Unfortunately,
the amended Use Class Order
2005 is a step back: it fails to subject HMOs to planning control.
Locally, we press LCC and the universities to address the issue
of student housing in Leeds. We want to discourage student accommodation
in Headingley and its neighbouring communities, and encourage it
elsewhere in the city. In response to pressure from the Lobby and
its members, the Council has published a Report on Shared
Housing, it has adopted an Action
Plan, it has established a Student Housing Project Group (on
which all stakeholders are represented) to oversee the implementation
of the Plan, and in the Leeds
UDP Review, it is introducing an Area of Housing Mix. Now, we
aim to exploit every opportunity offered by present and future legislation.
Leeds HMO Lobby