Housing : Pressure to combat ‘student ghettos’ in Durham

A council is facing renewed calls to combat “student ghettos”, after the last local resident of a city centre street described her life as “hell on earth”.

Jackie Levitas, the only remaining non-student on Waddington Street, Durham, said Durham County Council had concentrated on the county’s villages to the neglect of the city – and must decide whether it really “cares” about Durham.

“It’s your duty. People have fled the city. You’ve got to encourage them to come back.

“You must think about how to improve Durham – every decision taken should be an improvement,” the 78-year-old poet said.

Her calls were echoed by Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, who called the situation “dreadful” and said it left her “almost beyond despair”.

Roger Cornwell, chairman of the City of Durham Trust conservation society, said: “Jackie’s is an extreme form of what’s been going on.

“Her street is treated as part of a student hall of residence. She’s treated as an interloper. The street is totally dead when you get to the (university) vacation.”

 Stuart Timmiss, the council’s head of planning and assets, said it acknowledged the scale of student numbers could create tensions and it recognised the importance of Durham University to Durham.

“Ensuring a balance in respect of these issues is very difficult,” he added.

“We recognise that in Waddington Street and the adjoining streets almost all of the properties are in student use, largely down to how the market has operated over a period of time.

“We have policies in place which mean future applications for student housing developments take all of the above aspects into account and do not have an adverse impact on local communities.”

While first year students at Durham University live in college, many second and third years – plus postgraduates – live in formerly private homes that have been converted into houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) for students.

 Recently, a string of large-scale schemes for purpose-built student accommodation have come forward. Planning permission has been granted for more than 2,000 more student beds and several hundred more are in the pipeline, even though the university expects to expand by only 359 students by 2019-20.

The council is under pressure to introduce an Article 4 direction, which would force developers to apply for planning permission to convert a house into an HMO, and produce a comprehensive student accommodation strategy, a previous attempt having been rejected by a planning inspector.

Professor Graham Towl, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor, said:

We are keen to work with the community to ensure there is a positive environment for all who live and work in Durham and Stockton-on-Tees and we welcome open dialogue.”

Source –  Durham Times, 15 May 2015

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