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Martin Blakey, 'Disgruntled locals cannot dictate student accommodation
The Guardian, 6 October 2009, p33
Martin Blakey of Unipol Student Homes misrepresents the recent
consultation on HMOs as an attack on student accommodation ('Disgruntled
locals cannot dictate student accommodation policy' 6 October).
But then as a major provider of student housing, he would say that,
First of all, the consultation which prompted Blakey's response
had nothing to do with student accommodation - it was in fact about
possible new legislation on shared houses or houses in multiple
occupation (HMOs). These are the only form of housing development
which in practice at present do not need planning permission. There
is no good reason why they should be exempt - and every reason why
they should not, as the Planning Officers Society has argued.
Again, this is an issue which is much wider than Blakey's narrow
focus. Licensing of HMOs was in fact first proposed in response
to concentrations in seaside towns. And planning controls were proposed
two years ago by the Communities & Local Government Committee's
report on Coastal Towns.
Blakey is right that the government "seems to support increasing
student numbers without knowing how to meet their housing needs."
Against a deafening silence from higher education, only residents
have proposed appropriate measures. In sheer numbers, student HMOs
have now far out-stripped those on the coast. Blakey's 'good practice'
solutions to the problems are demonstrably inadequate. His own operation
Unipol Student Homes has presided over the domination of over a
hundred streets in Headingley in Leeds by HMOs. The city is well
known for its good practice in response - yet a recent report by
Sheffield University identified Headingley as still having the worst
community cohesion in the country.
Blakey is also right that "politicians need to consider the
wider housing implications." For it is not only the immediate
community which suffers from student HMOs. With the new academic
year, Headingley has just experienced its annual influx of over
25,000 students (two small towns' worth!) moving into HMOs. At the
same time, Leeds has 25,000 citizens on the Council's housing waiting
list. What should be first homes for families have been turned into
second homes for students.
Finally, Blakey pretends that it's only residents who object to
these developments. But in fact, in response to the consultation
on HMOs, most of the Core Cities supported new legislation, as well
as many other towns, not least those in the Coastal Communities
Alliance. And new legislation is supported also by organisations
of professionals, including the Royal Town Planning Institute, the
Planning Officers Society, the Chartered Institute of Environmental
Health and the National HMO Network. Blakey's patronising reference
to 'locals' is symptomatic of the ivory-tower arrogance of his own
Dr Richard Tyler is Co-ordinator of the National HMO Lobby,
a national network of local community associations, website at www.hmolobby.org.uk
National HMO Lobby