Student Association’s President claims that councillors have “failed the youth of St Andrews”

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QV has previously reported on the decision of councillor members of the Community and Housing Services (CHS) committee to cap the number of HMOs in St Andrews at current levels.

In today’s edition of The Saint, officers of the Student Association decry the decision and the Association President, Paloma Paige, goes so far as to suggest that councillors have ‘let down the youth of St Andrews’. By “youth of St Andrews”, QV understands her to mean the part-time student residents of the town rather than those children and young people brought up in the town – many of whom cannot afford to live in the town as adults due to soaring house prices fuelled in large part by the HMO free for all.

During the decision-making meeting of CHS earlier this month, research into locked and ‘underutilised’ rooms undertaken by the University and Student’s Association, and submitted to Housing Services as evidence of ‘wasted’ accommodation, was sharply criticised by Councillor Linda Holt who said, “It is amateurish, it has not been independently verified, it is not open to public scrutiny and it raises more questions than it answers as there are many reasons why not every room in a rented property is let out as a bedroom. It is no basis on which to make policy.”

Other councillors also spoke against the report, including Councillor Brian Thomson, who although not a member of the Committee, exercised his right to address the Committee. He said “The number of HMO properties in St Andrews has been further exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing in the town, by reducing the ability of many families to purchase or rent open market family housing, and significantly threatening the viability of St Andrews continuing to be a sustainable, mixed community”.

Outgoing Student Accommodation Officer Lucy Allatt, who led the research on locked bedrooms, responded to the criticism of her report by Fife councillors.

She said to The Saint, “The research that was carried out was not done as a quick fix. Many months before the survey was sent out, there was a lot of research done about the methodology behind making a survey. The survey was set out in a way that every student that answered it knew the definition of a privately rented property, locked bedroom and under-used rooms, meaning that all the responses that we gained fitted with the definitions that would be used in the report.”

Ms Allatt stated that the aim of questionnaire, which had a 25% response rate, was to “gain more of an insight into student housing within St Andrews.”

She continued, “It is disappointing that Fife Council reacted to the research in the way that they did. The research was not intended to just be of benefit to the university but to the wider town. It is highlighting a problem that is shown to be widespread and potentially wasting a lot of bedroom spaces within the town. I still hope that the research that was carried out will be able to be used in the future to compare the impact of the widespread issue of the HMO ban within St Andrews in the future with the current research that has been carried out.”

Referring to the decision to limit HMO numbers, outgoing President of the Students’ Association, Paloma Paige, said “It is my view, on behalf of the student body, that Fife Councillors have failed the youth of St Andrews who overwhelmingly asked for a three per cent HMO threshold.

“The phenomenon of ‘locked-off’ bedrooms has until now been only anecdotal. Nonetheless, it has had a detrimental impact on students’ experience living in private accommodation. The research commissioned by the University, which was based on a survey completed by nearly 25 per cent of eligible students, not only proved that this phenomenon is real, it also gave a clear indication of the scope and scale of the problematic practice”.

“I am proud of what the University and researchers have achieved here and every student who took part in the survey should also be proud. Councillors’ criticisms of the research do not change the results: over a hundred reports of wasted rooms.”

As the HMO policy in St Andrews will not be reviewed again for another three years, the Students’ Association is now tasked with finding alternative strategies in making student accommodation more affordable and accessible in the town. On this, Ms Paige added, “We need to ensure that properties are fully utilised. Prices are too high and competition for resources is too intense for us to ignore wasted rooms”.

“The new policy will be reviewed and its success measured over the next three years. I highly doubt that it will succeed and the Students’ Association continue its work advocating for students and for balanced evidence-based solutions.”

St Andrews QV (Qui Vive) is an independent not-for-profit, non-political platform for news and debates about issues that are important to the Town. It exists to hold decision makers and public services to account while its editorial policy is to accommodate all shades of opinion from all parts of the community, prioritising evidence-based arguments. St Andrews QV is a member of the Independent Community News Network and is committed to the Community Journalism Charter

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  1. Fife Council’s recent decision to prevent further family homes being turned in to Houses of Multiple Occupation has produced some interesting responses from objectors to this policy.

    The Students Association would like to see no restrictions on more family homes being turned into HMOs. This despite the information before the decision-making committee that showed student accommodation requirements were more than adequately met and the pressing need in St Andrews was for more affordable homes, especially social housing.

    It has long been a shibboleth of student politics that student digs should be prioritised over all other needs. Students have taken over the town’s housing to the extent that residents are now a minority. Less than a tenth of students responded to the consultation on the HMO over-provision policy, despite receiving an email from the student president encouraging them to vote against it. This would seem to indicate that the vast majority of students do not share the aspirations of candidates for election for posts in the Students Association. Many better informed students take a more balanced view of the needs of others in the town.

    While one may interpret the Student Association view as being a result of youthful enthusiasm, it is more difficult to understand why the University management should support student politics to the extent it does. Its contribution to the debate was a research paper, delivered at the last moment to Fife Council, which was described in the Committee meeting as being academically inadequate. The paper’s main finding was that 145 present student digs could be used more effectively if locked or underutilised rooms, alleged to be put out of use by the existing policy, could be opened up to house more students. Unfortunately, the data supplied did not support this contention.

    The University is also quoted as saying that it was “very doubtful that a cap on HMOs “would allow it to “play our part in sustaining a balanced and fair community in St Andrews”. As the University is significantly responsible for the present serious population imbalance and is the main driver for St Andrews becoming an unsustainable community, the logic of this statement is hard to fathom.

    The University also boasts that it provides more accommodation per head in its own residences than any other university. This may be true, but not many universities are located in communities where the students population of over 9000 outnumbers the resident population and more than half occupy former family homes. Universities such as Glasgow, traditionally recruit large numbers of its students from its home city, and the student community is a much smaller proportion of the local population.

    It would seem that the PR function of the University does not operate with the same academic rigour as the University expects from its students. The University’s oft repeated statement about the major contribution it makes to the local economy is not in doubt. But this does not give it licence to pursue policies which are seriously damaging to the social fabric of St Andrews- the attraction of this unique town being a major selling point when recruiting prospective students.

    In an impassioned plea to committee members, Councillor Jane Ann Liston, described those wishing to restrict HMOs as “a few town residents who would rather not have student neighbours”. This is both factually and arithmetically incorrect. Each household had only one vote, while each student had an individual vote. Nevertheless, 1663 households responded to the consultation with 78% opting for a nil increase in HMOs. It is deeply disturbing that a councillor elected to serve the whole community should characterise so many of her constituents as being motivated by nimbyism, rather than a concern for a sustainable future for the town.

    The policy restricting further HMOs has been described in the press as being controversial. In fact, the zero growth policy was approved unanimously by the Communities and Housing Committee composed of members of all political allegiances and representing all parts of Fife.

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