What is a HMO?
Local HMO Plans
Ten Point Plan
Leeds HMO Lobby
Use Classes Order
Taxation of HMOs
Students & Community
National HMO Lobby
Students, Communities and Sustainability
for presentation at
Unipol, Students & Communities Revisited, Conference,
Nottingham, 12 May 2006
in the event substituted by Ten
I want to consider these three notions, Students,
Communities and Sustainability,
in different combinations. I want to look at Communities & Sustainability,
and ask the question, What is a sustainable community?
I want to look at Communities & Students, and ask, Why do
they go wrong? And I want to look at Students & Sustainability,
and ask, What can we do about it?
First of all, Communities & Sustainability: What
is a sustainable community?
The motto of the new Dept for Communities & Local Government
(formerly ODPM) is Creating Sustainable
Communities. But there are two things wrong with this motto.
# First, there is the centralist assumption that government can
create sustainable communities. But sustainable communities
can’t be created externally. If a Community is to
be sustainable – it must by definition be self-sustaining.
The best that government can offer is to Support Sustainable
Communities. # The second thing that’s wrong is the Department’s
understanding of what a sustainable community is.
The Department offers a definition of sustainable community –
which essentially comprises eight components.*
Ø With regard to community cohesion, a sustainable community
is Active, inclusive & safe.
Ø With regard to governance, it is Well run.
Ø With regard to green issues, it’s Environmentally
Ø Regarding the built environment, it is Well designed
Ø Regarding communications, it is Well connected.
Ø It’s economy is Thriving.
Ø In public services, it is Well served.
Ø And regarding the respect agenda, it is Fair.
This is fine as far as it goes. But it’s not a definition.
It’s a description. It’s a list of the features
you would expect to find, if a community was sustainable. But it
doesn’t tell us why? – what are the structural
features of a community which makes it sustainable. It’s a
list of effects – but it says nothing about causes.
Communities & Students: Why do sustainable communities
If we want to know what sustains a community, then we might well
look at those which have ceased to be sustainable – then we
can (a) identify the causes of the problems, and (b) begin to prepare
Let us imagine a neighbourhood which is unsustainable, which does
not demonstrate these eight components.
Ø First of all, with regard to community cohesion, it has
Lost its community spirit.
Ø With regard to governance, it is apathetic, there is Minimal
Ø Regarding green issues, it is simply Polluted.
Ø Regarding the built environment, its users see it as no
more than a Mine for rents.
Ø Its communications are Congested.
Ø Its economy has become a ‘Resort’ economy.
Ø Its suffers from Depleted services (like
Ø Most distressing of all, those who use it show it No
But of course, those of us here who are community activists don’t
need to imagine such a neighbourhood. We live in it! That’s
why we are here – we live in communities which have lost their
Why have they done so? What are the structural features they have
lost, which have taken with them the neighbourhood’s sustainability?
(a) First of all, we know the reason is not students. We
know this because we have lived in these neighbourhoods for years.
And students have also lived in these neighbourhoods for years.
And we have not experienced these symptoms. Indeed, students have
added to the diversity of our communities. (b) Something
has changed. And what has changed is the balance
of the community. Once, ours were mixed communities – but
now they are polarised. And the polarisation is away from a mix
or balance – of old and young, of families and single people
and shared households, of home-owners and tenants – towards
a neighbourhood dominated by one type of household. In our case,
this is shared households or HMOs. Now, it’s irrelevant who
are the occupants of these houses. The point is that people live
in shared houses for short periods only (for eighteen months at
most, usually for half that). What underlies our un-sustainability
is the transience of HMOs, and the fact that they dominate
our neighbourhoods. (c) Regrettably, the main driver towards HMO
polarisation is the demand for student housing, following the expansion
of Higher Education. It’s not the quality of students
which is the issue, students as such – it’s
the sheer quantity.
So: # One of the key changes which undermines sustainability is
social polarisation. # Polarisation can take many forms,
such as the exclusive gated community or the excluded sink estate
– and another is studentification. # But it’s
essential to emphasise that studentification
is quite different from students – studentification
happens when students cease to be one component in a vital social
mix, and become instead a dominating monoculture.**
Students & Sustainability: What can we do about
Universities UK has published a Guide to Studentification
(2006) which aims to offer an answer to this question. Its great
value is that it recognises that studentification is a problem:
“It is incontrovertible that the negative effects of studentification
are evident in several towns and cities across the UK” (para
3.12). Its great weakness as any sort of solution is that it is
fundamentally flawed. It fails in three respects. It fails to identify
why studentification is a cause of unsustainability. It
fails to identify the effects of this cause. And it fails
to identify the essential solutions to the root cause of
the problem of studentification.
First of all, if we are going to address the problems of studentification,
which is a special case of the general problem of un-sustainability
– then we have to identify its causes.
As we have seen, the cause of studentification is demographic imbalance,
in particular the polarisation of the population. We all know cases
where this happens – a single street may be polarised, made
up almost entirely of HMOs; or a neighbourhood of several streets
may go the same way; or a whole community may be overwhelmed. We
can all produce statistics to demonstrate this. And we do need statistics,
because those who have not experienced it find it difficult to believe.
But the Studentification Guide hides these statistics.
Instead, we get figures for whole cities, which hides the scale
of the problem for the local communities within these cities. In
Appendix I, in Leeds as a whole, students are shown as 11% of the
total population – but not the fact that they are 60% of Headingley
Ward – or 51 out of 54 houses in Chestnut Avenue.
Secondly, the effects need to be made
clear. To be sure, there can be ‘positive effects’ of
students in a university town – and these are laid out in
Table 1 of the Guide. But there is a clear distinction between students
and studentification. It is students which bring ‘positive
effects’, not studentification. Studentification
brings only ‘challenges’, as these are euphemistically
called in Table 2 (but which more honestly should be called ‘problems’).
The positive effects are no compensation for the challenges. It’s
no consolation for a community made unsustainable that someone somewhere
else in the town may be picking up some benefits. There are
no benefits to studentification, there is no profit-and-loss
balance to be made. To pretend otherwise is to fudge the issue.
Finally, the problems can’t be solved unless you look for
the right solutions. To be sure, you can
bring in measures to tackle the effects. But you are on a hiding
to nothing if you don’t tackle the root causes. Addressing
a polarised population, or demographic imbalance, requires planning
measures. And up and down the country, different Local Planning
Authorities are trying different planning strategies to tackle the
problems. Not a single one of these is mentioned in the Guide. The
Guide does mention that “there are a number of powers available
to local authorities to ameliorate the effects [of studentification],
for example, the Use Classes Order and HMO Licensing” (para
4.13). But the Guide doesn’t mention that these are quite
inadequate, and their inadequacy emasculates the best efforts of
local planning policies. And the Guide doesn’t mention that
this inadequacy is universally recognised, and that changes have
been sought for years – but the government has turned a deaf
ear to the lobbying, and a blind eye to the consequences.
So: there are real issues arising from Students, Communities and
Sustainability. Communities themselves recognise these – we
live with them 24/7 as the phrase goes (literally). What we need
is for all those on both sides of the HE sector (universities and
students) and for all those in both levels of government (local
and national) to recognise them too. This takes us back to where
we began: will the government really Support
On Tuesday of this week (9 May), Tony Blair wrote to Ruth Kelly,
the newly-appointed Minister for Communities & Local Government,
about the role of her Department. Among other things, he said, “We
need to ensure that local communities have the powers they need
to respond to challenging economic, social and cultural trends,
and to create cohesive, thriving, sustainable communities capable
of both fulfilling their own potential and of overcoming their own
difficulties, including community conflict, deprivation and disadvantage
... Empowering local communities is central to achieving our wider
objective of democratic renewal” Wouldn’t it be great
if we could believe a word of it?
Dr Richard Tyler, National HMO Lobby, 12 May 2006
*ODPM in fact cast around for some time searching for a definition,
until the Egan Review on Skills for Sustainable Communities
(2004) came to the rescue. The present definition adopts Egan’s
seven components, and adds an eighth.
**It is entirely overlooked by the government definition, but it
is self-evident that the pre-requisite for a sustainable community
is a resident population willing and able to sustain that community.
Local populations can be disabled in a number of ways, all of which
are types of polarisation. Polarisation can mean
opposition – in which case, the neighbourhood becomes
a site of contest between competing factions. Or polarisation can
mean one-sidedness. Again, this can take a variety of forms
– exclusive communities (gated developments) or excluded communities
(ghettos). Another is transience. A transient population
lacks the ability to maintain sustainability (community
campaigns often take years of concerted action). It also lacks the
will (necessarily, members of the population are only briefly
committed to the neighbourhood). (Of course, one type of polarisation
can readily slide into the other.)
National HMO Lobby