National HMO Lobby


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National HMO Lobby



Engaging with the Community
An Open Letter to Our Universities

Dear Professor Trainor, President, Universities UK

1. As Co-ordinator of the National HMO Lobby, I write to you in your capacity as President of Universities UK. As you may know, the National HMO Lobby is a nation-wide network of fifty local community groups in thirty towns concerned about the impact on their communities of concentrations of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation), especially (but not only) shared student houses. Our organisations have been in dialogue for some years – in fact, since the inception of the research in 2004 which became your publication, Studentification: a guide to opportunities, challenges and practice (2006). We contributed to the content, and we participated in its launch in January 2006 and its presentation to Parliament in June. Today, I attended your conference, Uni and the Community: new directions for public engagement.

2. The members of the National HMO Lobby of course have their own relationships with local members of Universities UK. It has to be said that these have not always been cordial. However, recently, there have been some significant moves by individual universities towards a deeper understanding of our communities’ concerns. A pioneer was the Vice Chancellor of Loughborough University in her presentation to the Parliamentary University Group in November of last year. This year, the two universities in Nottingham have committed themselves to supporting changes in planning legislation to manage HMOs. So too has Leeds University, as well as supporting the introduction of Additional HMO Licensing. And this University has said explicitly, "demographic imbalance [is] an issue ... in certain areas the concentration of students creates significant problems in creating a sustainable community ... It is acknowledged that in some areas the loss of community can not be mitigated by an increased access to resources and facilities."

3. The National HMO Lobby is keen to move forward in positive dialogue with Universities UK. To this end, we wish to present to you a twofold challenge. The first part of this arises from the Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability publication, Accounting for Sustainability (2003). The Lobby has produced a Discussion Document which explores the implications of this Guide. We identify especially two major costs to local communities which should be included in any attempt to account for an institution’s sustainability. The first of these is the cost to the neighbouring community of coping with the impact on the community of huge numbers of its clients, its students, whose presence raises a whole range of social, environmental and economic issues (outlined in Studentification). The second however is largely unacknowledged, and this is the huge loss of homes from the local housing stock, which are bought by landlords, parents, investors, to let as seasonal second homes to students. Our first challenge therefore is to urge Universities UK to press its members to adopt the approach outlined in Accounting for Sustainability, and in the interests of its own and its neighbours viability, to account systematically for their sustainability.

4. While our first challenge is, if you like, reactive – our second is proactive. Whilst the HEPS Guide is about measuring what has been done, a recent proposition from across the Atlantic is about what might be done. The National Association of College & University Business Officers in the USA has issued Communities of Opportunity: Smart Growth Strategies for Colleges and Universities (July 2007). Smart growth strategies help to ensure that new growth and development meet the institutions' mission to provide high-quality education, support research and innovation, and serve the community in which they live. NACUBO identifies a number of arguments for adopting such strategies, including “Colleges and universities and the surrounding communities can work together across the traditional boundary of the campus to solve challenges in mutually beneficial ways.” Much of the detail of this proposition is of necessity peculiar to the USA. But might not Universities UK promote a similar project in this country?

5. Both of these initiatives are ‘ecological’ in a broad sense, and both are collaborative. They are in the interests of HEIs. They are in the interests of their host communities. And they are in the interests of the planet (or at least, of the people who live on the planet). The Department for Communities & Local Government is preparing to launch a Taskforce, to explore the impact of studentification. The Lobby asks Universities UK to participate in this Taskforce with enthusiasm – and to use it as a platform for a collaborative project on strategies for sustainable Higher Education, to take a new direction in public engagement.

Yours sincerely, Dr Richard Tyler, Co-ordinator, National HMO Lobby, 25 October 2007

Professor Trainor replied on 26 November 2007. On 11 March 2008, the Lobby wrote again, partly with reference to DIUS' New University Challenge, partly to send Prof Trainor a copy of Balanced Communities & Studentification.


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