Council motion threatens students through restrictions on off-campus accommodation

YUSU President Anne-Marie Canning has strongly criticised plans by York County Council to restrict levels of students living in certain areas, labelling the decision “obscene”.

Canning’s criticism is dir­ected at a motion tabled in November of last year, which called on the council to “join other university cities in their lobby, via the Local Govern­ment Association, to central gov­­ernment, for specific powers to enable local authorities to add­ress the impact of the proportion of students residing in specific geographical areas”. The motion was carried unanimously.

Canning said: “It’s awful. It’s saying that councils can decide whether students can live in certain areas. Students are entitled to live wherever the hell they like. It’s not up to them to decide where we can live as citizens of this country.”

“Basically, it deems that students can live in some areas and not in others. If you start with one section of society, I don’t see why we can’t start ghettoising others, like asylum seekers or immigrants,” Canning continued.

The motion, proposed by Councillor David Horton, draws strongly from Early Day Motion (EDM) 1488, which was presented before parliament in May 2007. That motion, which was written by Labour MP for Durham, Rob­erta Blackman-Woods, urged local authorities to “use the planning system to encourage the establishment of harmonious balanced communities”. It was signed by 56 MPs, inclu­ding York MP John Grogan.

“[The York motion] has been proposed by the council under the guise of helping students, but it’s a farce. It’s the EDM motion tarted up,” continued Canning.

York councillor for Holgate and former YUSU President James Alexander, who voted in favour of the motion, defended the council’s decision, and denied that it would be detrimental to students.

“I think if enacted with the motion’s true intention, this is good for students. The motion supported by all political parties seeks to increase the quality of private student housing by forcing unscrupulous landlords to maintain student homes properly,” Alexander said.

Alexander first saw the proposals during a York Labour Club meeting, where he admitted to Canning that he had “toned down some of the language in it.”

“Students won the election for John Grogan, and James [Alexander] will want to get the student vote out for him, so I think it’s a shame that they haven’t spoken out against this motion. I have told James that he should have spoken out against it,” said Canning, who is hoping to make fighting the motion one of YUSU’s key policies for next year.

Grogan, who drew on the student vote to win his seat at the general election, also defen­ded the council. “It’s a simple motion to allow Local Autho­r­ities to have a separate category for multiple occupancy homes with additional planning powers. To maintain the quality of the area, it’s important to have diversity,” said Grogan. “It does potentially restrict the supply of houses of multiple occu­pa­tion, but there is a respon­sib­i­l­ity on the University to sup­­ply ac­c­ommodation,” Grogan added.

Councillor Roger Pierce, who seconded the motion, has stated on his website that he will push for a large amount of accomodation on Hes East “to reduce the pressure on family housing in the Ward.”

Canning, however, defended the rights of students to live in off-campus accommodation if they chose to. “Students don’t want to live on campus for three years, they want a house, a TV, a sofa. It’s not up to [the council] to decide where students should live,” she said. “I think that students in Badger Hill are in danger, as it’s near Hes East. “I don’t want to see a situation where students are driven further and further away from campus,” Canning added.

Ama Uzowuru, NUS Vice-President (Welfare), has stated: “It is totally unacceptable to expect students to be curtailed and told where they can and cannot live.” The NUS are campaigning against government restrictions on student housing.