In April 2019, councillors on the Communities and Housing Services Committee voted to implement the Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Overprovision Policy within St Andrews, the aim of which was to prevent any increase in the number of HMOs in in the town, i.e. zero growth, with immediate effect. The Council now wishes to review the policy and has launched a consultation which closes on January 22.
The introduction of the Overprovision Policy followed a a consultation with residents and other interest groups, during which local resident’s groups, supported by the Labour Councillor Brian Thomson, backed by an analysis of the town’s housing problems and evidence that the spread of HMOs was damaging the town, made the case that HMO growth should be limited in order to avoid more family homes being lost, house prices being forced up, and St Andrews becoming an unsustainable community.
This view was strongly resisted by the University and Students’ Association who took the narrow view that housing should be left to market forces and students had the right to live anywhere they liked. This is still their view and they see a lifting of the policy as a way out of the self inflicted twin problems of having taken in too many students (currently approaching 11,000 in total) and not proceeding with the Albany Park development designed to accommodate 681 students.
Even before the latest rise in student numbers, there was accumulating evidence of the distorting effect of the expansion of the University on the local community. St Andrews had, and still has, by far the highest number of HMOs as a proportion of the total number of the town’s households compared to other university towns and cities – (1 in 7 vs 1 in 42 in the next highest, Dundee and Edinburgh).
Permanent residents make up less than half the total population of the town, having become a minority in 2011/12 (see graph). The rising student population and and falling permanent resident population has skewed the town’s demographics and has been accompanied by a low birth rate (3% vs the Scottish average of 9% in 2019/20) and falling primary school rolls. In the Central Conservation Area, students make up 80% of the population.
Fife Council’s consultation asks six core (obligatory) questions: your connection to St Andrews (resident, landlord, student etc), your awareness of the Overprovision Policy, your housing situation (owner, renter etc.), whether the policy has met its objective (zero growth), what exemptions to the policy should there be, and whether the policy should continue or be removed.
Data supplied to St Andrews QV in response to an FOI request to Fife Council Housing Services demonstrates that there has been no growth in HMO numbers in St Andrews since the Policy was implimented in April 2019. So the HMO Overprovision Policy has met the objective of limiting the number of HMOs.
David Middleton, Chair of the Confederation of St Andrews Residents’ Associations (CSARA) believes that there are no grounds for removing the Overprovision Policy: “There is strong pressure from the University for the policy to be changed to allow more HMOs, as students numbers have increased and the construction of new student accommodation at Albany Park has been delayed, while the existing low cost student housing there has been demolished.”
“CSARA believes that it is unacceptable for scarce family housing, including former social houses to be bought up by buy-to-let landlords in order to resolve this problem for the University. The student body is more sensitive to the housing needs of local families, and is pressuring the University to provide more affordable accommodation. The St Andrews University residences are the most expensive in Scotland.”
“So the problem is not the HMO Policy but the University’s inability to accommodate all the students that it recruits at a price the students can afford.”
Note: an HMO licence is required for accommodation that is occupied by three or more persons from three or more families, occupied as a sole or main residence and providing shared basic amenities.
Click here to go to the consultation