When it was discovered earlier this year that the government had decided to ensure that student houses required planning permission to be converted through new legislation, a slippery slope has been emerging ever since.
York City Council have since declared that pronounced concentrations of students may impact on local neighbourhoods, have devised an internal ‘map’ detailing exactly where students live, and are now exploring the possibility of using an Article 4 Direction in response to government policy. This would mean that any Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) with more than three people in them – soon to be six, according to new coalition Government plans – in specifically student-centric areas near the University, as identified by the council, must receive planning permission.
Nouse has since learnt that the council can use their map to investigate the state of student houses on a road-by-road basis, looking for evidence to back up their support for the Article 4 Direction. This is despite not finding the evidence to support their plans through a survey conducted by officers looking to find indications of problems such as “anti-social behaviour”, “increased levels of crime” and “lack of community integration”. This was conducted in wards identified as having the highest proportion of students: Fishergate, Heslington and Hull Road.
When asking residents in Heslington whether they felt there was a lack of respect and consideration between people in the local area, the council found that 0 per cent of people felt that this was the case. 100 per cent of the residents living in privately owned or rented properties in Heslington said that they are satisfied with their local area, and 94 per cent in Fishergate agreed. Only 5 per cent of residents in Fishergate think that there is a problem with anti-social behaviour in the local area.
In a report made to the council last month, the former National Chair of Liberal Youth and Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate at the last General Election, Alan Belmore, argued that in areas with high student populations, “in all the criteria laid down in the officers’ report, it is either has a better or no effect if you are living in an area with a high student concentration”. He added that “further investigation will involve significant workload on behalf of the council staff in order to appease a prejudiced few”.
The Article 4 Direction does not just perpetuate a stigma and prejudice against students that the council have found to be not necessarily true. Belmore has also pointed to how the Article 4 Direction can be used to block the construction of HMOs near the University and effectively limit student housing in the area. This could push students away from the University and cost the average student £100 a term in travel fees. According to Belmore, “for a student living on a yearly budget of £500-700, which is not uncommon, it would be huge and only push them further towards commercial lenders.”
“There’s an agreement among all parties, including ourselves, that there is an issue regarding students in the community.”
Councillor Ian Gillies, Conservative Group Leader
Local student residents have been experiencing such prejudice first hand. A third-year English student living in the Heslington ward told Nouse last week that a letter which was sent to the Union and the University earlier this year, labelling student residents as “inconsiderate individuals” who act “irresponsibly” and leave their houses in an “absolutely disgraceful state!”, has been consistently left under her car windscreen, despite living in what she calls a “sleepy student house”.
One of her neighbours recently came to her house to discuss the amount of cars that had been coming and going from the house over the weekend, and clearly pointed out all the student houses on the street and the amount of cars each house owned. She said that she felt “freaked out” that the neighbour would put “so much time and effort into identifying student houses on the street and approaching student residents, when we are always respectful and polite”.
A problem that has been identified is that very few councillors, if any, are willing to stand up for the student cause, making a limitation on student housing a tangible possibility.
Steve Galloway, Chair of the Local Development Framework Working Group and a Liberal Democrat councillor, told Nouse that “personally I think that there is a case for having a ceiling on the number of short-term let properties permitted in a street”.
New local powers to control HMOs were introduced on the 6 April 2010 with a new Use Class Order coming into force meaning that any change of use to an HMO requires planning permission. The new Use Class Order effectively splits the old C3 class into two classes C3 (Dwellinghouses) and C4 (Houses in Multiple Occupation). If the council passes an Article 4 Direction, they can require that any HMO conversion in certain areas must obtain planning permission. An Article 4 direction is a decision made by a Local Planning Authority (LPA) or the Secretary of State preventing certain specified development.
The Conservative Group Leader, Councillor Ian Gillies, confirmed that “there’s an agreement among all parties, including ourselves, that there is an issue regarding students in the community”. He said that a “large influx of students into an area has a tendency to overwhelm that street or neighbourhood, creating a mono-culture in which they feel uncomfortable”, despite 95 per cent of people in the Heslington ward feeling that it is a place where people of different backgrounds get on well together, according to the council’s survey.
James Alexander, leader of the Labour Group, has emphasised that Labour’s policy is about the “condition of student properties, not students themselves” and that their main concern is that “student houses are not maintained”. Alexander proposes a licensing scheme where student landlords could be fined £20,000 if they convert a HMO without a license, and up to £5,000 if they don’t meet council guidelines and proposals. But Galloway has argued that a licensing regime “could only be introduced if it could be demonstrated that there are above average levels of anti-social behaviour in an area and (perversely) that there is low demand for housing (which clearly isn’t the case in any part of York)”.
Galloway added: “Merely making such a proposition has the effect of stigmatising communities – whether they have a large number of students or not.”
What remains to be seen is how far the council will take their “proposed further work”, which includes identifying more “localised concentrations of student housing” and creating “place-specific thresholds” of student houses, and also how far YUSU can go in showcasing the student cause.
Tim Ngwena, YUSU President, has said that “over the past few months YUSU has been working with the relevant York council departments to better understand the issues that are facing students in the community. It’s apparent that there is mounting interest into housing policy regarding student lettings… it concerns me that none of the policies put forward by the parties has involved Student Union or University consultation.”
The Labour Party
James Alexander – Leader of the Labour Group
Alexander proposes a licensing scheme where student landlords could be fined £20,000 if they convert a HMO without a license, and up to £5,000 if they don’t meet council guidelines and proposals.
The Lib Dems
Steve Galloway – Liberal Democrat Councillor
“Personally I think that there is a case for having a ceiling on the number of short-term let properties permitted in a street… Residents talked of concerns about the appearance of homes, car parking and noise.”
Ian Gillies – Leader of the Conservative Group
“We’re all finding that student housing is one of the main concerns of people in the area… a large influx of students into an area has a tendency to overwhelm that street or neighbourhood.”