Residents join to fight student enclaves

April 22, 2005

Residents' groups in Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews have formed the first inter-city coalition to fight the emergence of student "ghettos".

Noise, anti-social behaviour and disregard for the physical state of their environs are just some of the complaints that have been levelled against students living off campus.

Now the residents' groups have upped the ante and accused them of potentially undermining the fabric of society in local communities.

The boom in the number of student flats is destroying communities, the three groups argue.

The groups say they are happy with students living in the community as long as the area remains mixed. The problem comes when the majority of residents are on short-term leases.

David Stay, secretary of the Edinburgh community group Magpie, said "irresponsible" landlords filled flats with students and then neglected the property. When permanent residents left, property developers moved in, leading to a downward spiral.

Mr Stay said: "We are not against students. We are concerned about the destruction of our community. Once you get no owner-occupiers in an area, it goes downhill."

Students' associations oppose efforts to limit the number of houses of multiple-occupation (HMOs). They say that areas with large numbers of students are "vibrant and stimulating". Ali Grainger, vice-president of Edinburgh University's students association, said: "[Limits on] HMOs are a blunt, ineffective tool to attempt to socially engineer a solution to problems of inner-city life. Students are not the problem, and a 'not-in-my-backyard' attitude is not the solution."

Residents' groups say their battle is not with students but with the Government, which has increased student numbers with no regard for the effect on neighbourhoods. Mr Stay said: "Our intention is to form a group that will lobby the Scottish Parliament. It's a government failure. It has expanded higher education and opened the door to Rachmanism."

David Middleton, vice-chair of the Central St Andrews Residents Alliance, said planning and licensing controls did little to stem the "rising tide of commercial exploitation of students".

Residents' groups fear that the problem will grow next year when buy-to-let landlords win more tax breaks. But a spokesman for the Scottish Executive said it had no plans to limit local authorities' planning and licensing discretion.

"The private housing sector is driven by demand," he said. Scotland led the UK by introducing mandatory licensing for HMOs in 2000, he said. Since October 2003, all properties with three or more unrelated tenants had to have a licence. "Licensing ensures that the property is safe, meets acceptable standards and is well managed," the spokesman said.

Queen's University Belfast and Ulster University recently joined forces with community groups to stamp out anti-social behaviour.

olga.wojtas@thes.co.uk

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