OAPs lose home in fight with college

February 25, 2005

A piece of land neighbouring a leafy campus in a conservation area seemed the perfect place to build a retirement home. But after a ten-year battle with Edge Hill College over the rowdy behaviour of some of its students, Eric and Ruth Beaumont wish they had never laid eyes on the plot in Ormskirk, Lancashire.

A failed legal claim against the college left the couple with a bill of nearly £90,000, forcing them to sell the bungalow they had built.

"You would think twice moving next door to a chemical factory or a penal reform institution," said Mrs Beaumont, who used to work at the college.

"But you would never have expected such a nightmare with a college. Our lives were left devastated and it seems that colleges and universities are above the law when it comes to controlling their students."

Next week, the Beaumonts' plight will be highlighted in Parliament at a meeting of the all-party committee for noise reduction, as a new national campaign against students' anti-social behaviour is launched.

After unprecedented "town-and-gown" flare ups in Ulster which have infuriated the local community, the pressure group UK Noise Association (UKNA) has made the nuisance created by students in large concentrations around universities and colleges a number one priority for action.

It is seeking advice on a possible judicial review of the Beaumonts' case, and is lobbying the Government and Universities UK to set up a special task force examining links between universities and local communities.

"What we faced was horrendous," said Mrs Beaumont. "There was a disco two nights a week, and we had students urinating in the garden as well as all their screaming, shouting and swearing on their way home. The students who lived on the campus were worse. Once they were racing around in shopping trolleys into the small hours."

After numerous complaints and a failed attempt to get an injunction against the college, the couple turned to the County Court seeking damages for "interference in the enjoyment of their property".

But despite video evidence and a number of specialist reports, the judge said that while the couple had suffered some nuisance, some complaints were "exaggerated" and others had been dealt with by the college or were historical. The court threw out their case.

The Beaumonts had to pay almost £90,000 in costs, and decided not to risk an appeal, which they said could have cost a further £10,000.

Rhiannon Evans, director of students and external relations at Edge Hill, said: "We regret that anyone should lose a case under these circumstances, particularly as the Beaumonts chose to go against their legal advice in taking Edge Hill to court. However, the judgment made it clear that Edge Hill acted responsibly in seeking to manage student behaviour.

"We continue to be proactive in working with the police, our students and immediate neighbours to minimise any negative impact that occasionally noisy students may have on the community.

"Our continuing work with the student union and the college club includes taking practical measures to reduce noise and minimise disruption to residents. One such measure is providing an evening minibus for students to and from Ormskirk town centre."

Val Weedon, secretary and national coordinator for the UKNA, said: "The Beaumonts are a really nice, normal couple and didn't deserve to lose their home.

"The 'town-and-gown' conflict is a problem that has been growing for many years and will get worse as the student population is predicted to rise in future years."

The UKNA has received a letter from Kim Howells, Higher Education Minister.

He says that while the Government is "well aware" of the problems student populations can cause, it cannot interfere in the affairs of autonomous higher education institutions.

A spokesperson for UUK said: "Universities have taken various initiatives to tackle the unintended consequences of the large influx and outflow of students at various points during the year.

"UUK is running a project to identify best practice in the management of students and relationships with local communities." phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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