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National HMO Lobby



Representations on
A New University Challenge

On 3 March 2008, DIUS published A New University Challenge. The National HMO Lobby responded as follows:

To: John Denham, Secretary of State, DIUS
Subject: New University Challenge
Date: 5 March 2008

Dear Mr Denham, as Co-ordinator of the National HMO Lobby, I was interested to read about your plans to set up new universities, outlined in A New University Challenge published on Monday. You may remember we met at the first formal meeting of the APPG for Balanced Communities in June last year - which of course was especially concerned with the impact of universities on the cohesion of local communities.

The Lobby was not a little alarmed at the suggestions for 'Contributing to community well-being' outlined in the booklet. You say "Higher education brings wider social benefits," and "Problems of civic engagement are highly concentrated spatially." We would certainly agree with the latter, but to many residents, the former is astonishing! We are surprised that there was no reference to the need to safeguard against the detrimental impacts of university expansion. We remember of course that you gave a very articulate outline of these problems in your contribution to the debate on Balanced & Sustainable Communities in Westminster Hall on 5 June 2007: "It is the reality that, if there are areas in which the concentration of student housing is very great, there cannot be a balanced and sustainable community. If the great majority of the population changes from one year to the next, the number of settled, long-term residents is too few to sustain, try as people will, the community organisations and sense of neighbourhood-the social capital, as it is called in the academic jargon-that make our communities work."

The National HMO Lobby yesterday participated in a Policy Round Table on Student Housing, part of the PRS Review initiated by CLG last month. The meeting was convened by Dr Julie Rugg, who is conducting the Review, and who made the following policy recommendation in a Report on student housing in 2000: "a housing strategy should be integral to the expansion plans of every HEI, and comprise an analysis of likely impacts on the local rental market and consultation with local community groups" (Julie Rugg et al, The nature and impact of student demand on housing markets, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York, 2000).

In the process of establishing the new universities, the Lobby asks that you take into account the interests of the local residents likely to be affected by such developments. May we recommend that approval by DIUS of any new university initiative should be dependent upon the proposal including a commitment to undertake an impact appraisal, as recommended by Dr Rugg, and a clear plan for avoiding problems of studentification arising?

Best wishes, Dr Richard Tyler, National HMO Lobby

A Consultation on The New University Challenge was carried out by HEFCE in July 2008 (see HEFCE Consultations). The National HMO Lobby responded as follows:

A New University Challenge
Response to the Consultation by HEFCE

1 The National HMO Lobby welcomes HEFCE's invitation in its 'Consultation on proposals for new higher education centres' (2008/27) to community organisations to contribute to the consultation on the New University Challenge, published by DIUS earlier this year. The Lobby is such an organisation: it comprises a network of some fifty local community associations in thirty towns throughout the United Kingdom, which are concerned about the impact on their communities of concentrations of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). The demand for accommodation by HEIs' students is the main driver of such concentrations (though not the only one), so the Lobby views the New University Challenge with some caution. The Lobby welcomes the intent to widen participation in higher education. In particular, the Lobby welcomes the intent to encourage local participation - as this will counter-act the peculiarly British culture of 'going away' to university (with the consequent detrimental effects - on the ecology, on local communities, and on national housing supply). Nevertheless, the Lobby remains concerned about the potential unintended consequences of the New University Challenge.

2 The unforeseen effects of the last major HE initiative, the expansion of provision in the 1990s, began to emerge in that decade. Foremost among these was the impact of the expansion on the student housing market. No account was taken of the need for accommodation of the increasing numbers of students going away to university. In the absence of institutional provision, the private sector moved into the void. The rental income from a house filled with students easily enabled student landlords to outbid other buyers - with the consequence that what were first homes for families rapidly became second homes for students. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned a report, which was published as Julie Rugg et al, The nature and impact of student demand on housing markets (York Publishing Services) in 2000. The report studied HEIs and student accommodation, the student niche market, and the impact of student demand on local housing markets. The report made a number of recommendations, on collaborative analysis of such impacts (between HE and national and local government), on the HE sector's responsibilities, on HEI housing strategies, on the impact on other housing markets, and so on.

3 The impact of HE expansion was not limited simply to housing markets, however. Concentrations of shared student houses (HMOs) had profound effects on local communities: the local demographic balance was profoundly disturbed, and previously mixed communities became polarised towards a young, transient and seasonal population. First of all, this eroded local social capital. And secondly, it increased the problems that these weakened communities faced, social, environmental and economic. The National HMO Lobby was established in 2000 in response to these developments, and it was followed in 2007 by the Councillors Campaign for Balanced Communities and by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Balanced & Sustainable Communities. The problems were acknowledged (and named) in the University UK report of 2006, Studentification: a guide to challenges, opportunities and practice.

4 The problems of studentification are now nationally recognised. University UK's Universities Planning Guidance (May 2008) includes a chapter on 'Student Housing', with a Case Study of developments in Leeds. A number of key points arise from this: "Universities need to set out clearly an estate strategy that explains its property and student housing needs and how these will be delivered; A coordinated approach to providing and managing student housing involving the main stakeholders is essential; Every effort must be made to carry out effective consultation on student housing policies and proposals including consultation with council members, and the communities that they represent." Overall, the chapter concludes "Planning authorities, other stakeholders and universities need to maintain a regular overview of the relationships between student housing development and wider housing strategies." Meanwhile, Housing Minister Caroline Flint has drawn attention to the 'ghost towns' which appear in areas of studentification during HE vacations. Accordingly, CLG is currently consulting on the Use Classes Order in relation to HMOs, to enable local planning authorities to better manage (and avoid) concentrations of HMOs, especially as a consequence of student demand.

5 The National HMO Lobby is therefore concerned that the New University Challenge should not lead to a new cycle of studentification. If the proposed HE centres do indeed cater for local demand, then this should not be the case. However, the Lobby is acutely aware of the unintended consequences of national policies, and seeks measures to avoid such a repetition. The National HMO Lobby recommends that the assessment of proposals for new HE centres should include a requirement that any such proposal should follow the recommendation of the Rugg report: " A housing strategy should be integral to the expansion plans of every HEI, and comprise an analysis of likely impacts on the local rental market and consultation with local community groups" (p34). Such a requirement would in fact contribute to two of the over-arching criteria for a successful HE centre, as proposed by HEFCE (paras 55-56). On the one hand, a student housing strategy will contribute to the requirement for long-term and sustainable planning, specifically: "It is essential that proposals for the new HE centres can demonstrate rigorous consideration of their impact, benefits and sustainability, in terms of developing HE as well as environmental, economic and social sustainability." On the other hand, a student housing strategy will also provide evidence of management capacity: such a strategy must be agreed (at least) between the local provider, the local authority and the local community, thereby demonstrating that "The objectives of partnerships involving multiple partners and large-scale investment would be realised through skilful management and governance." The members of the National HMO Lobby commend this proposal to HEFCE.

National HMO Lobby, August 2008

The National HMO Lobby also contributed to the HEFCE presentation and discussion in Leeds on 24 September 2008.


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