York tensions between ‘town and gown’

York has been singled out in the Guardian’s report of their Higher Education Summit as an area where tensions between ‘town and gown’ are unusually high, as yet another petition is presented to the York City Council by the Badger Hill Action Group against multiple-occupancy lets.

Reports from the recent Guardian HE summit show that many universities feel there has been an improvement in university and community interrelations over the past few years, but cities such as Nottingham and York were cited as areas where “Town-gown tensions may be high”.

The root of the Badger Hill tensions lies in the amount of student housing which forms the estate (10%). The Badger Hill Action Group (BAG) claims to represent the views of local residents by leafleting the area and organizing petitions to the local City Council to restrict student tenancies. Paul Hobman, a Badger Hill resident who spoke to the Guardian about the high number of student tenancies in the area, referred to it as “balkanisation”.

Some feel that there has been a rapid increase in student lets in the last couple of years, which has resulted in what one resident called a decrease in “community spirit”. Felicity Riddy, Deputy Vice Chancellor, claims that the University does in fact contribute to the local community, noting that “we stage concerts and provide a stimulating annual series of public lectures, while the Borthwick Institute, our sports facilities and nursery are widely used by the public.”

BAG has also vocalized concern regarding the impact of high numbers of students on local businesses. However, staff at Badger Hill Bakery and a local shop assistant agreed that students form a significant part of their customer group, with one local business owner saying “I get as many students as locals”. A local shop assistant commented “the students at York university are some of the best behaved I’ve ever seen”.

A further worry expressed by BAG is that the intake in local schools is decreasing due to rising numbers of student lets. Figures from the 2001 governmental census however reveal that 37% of residents in the area are aged 55 years or above. Thus families with young children are significantly under-represented on the estate.

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