As a local Councillor, I deal with all sorts of issues on behalf of my constituents. These can range in diversity from school places, parking problems, rubbish and fly tipping to complaints about the roads and council tax. What I have also had to deal with over the years is planning applications for students housing. When I say student housing, I mean purpose built blocks as opposed to houses which have been converted into Houses in multiple occupation or HIMO for short. This is a subject I hope to return to in the future.
Now, in the main, these blocks are fine in themselves. They serve a need and often use land which has long been left unloved and unused. Old factory sites, closed car parks, run down hotels or empty shop units have all seen new or refurbished purpose built student blocks. In the main, I have generally been supportive as it responds to an obvious demand and in time may free up one or two HIMOs along the way. That remains to be seen I know, but it does mean if a student is living in a block they are not living in a house.
However, those planning to build these blocks must be sensitive not only to architectural design but more importantly in my opinion to the impact the building and its occupants will have on the local population already in the area. Where they don’t take this into account or the site is obviously inappropriate, I have opposed on behalf of local residents who have contacted me or my colleagues.
A case in point is news as I write. Residents are worried that a 209 bed student block is going to be built right on their doorsteps in Hillfields. Currently the site is home to the recently closed Aylesford Intermediate Care Centre which closed due to budget cuts last year. Now, a developer from London has bought the site causing concern to local people. I have worked with my fellow St. Michael’s Ward Councillors Naeem Akhtar and David Welsh and asked them for their thoughts following a meeting with local people about the issue.
Naeem told me:
“It was a shock when I first heard of the plans. In general terms, I have no specific objection to purpose built student blocks providing good, safe and affordable rooms for the young people. However, to build one right in the middle of an estate which will overlook and over power residents properties is unacceptable. On top of that, it is quite a distance away from the university so I’m not really sure just how viable the plan is. I suspect the developer may be flying a kite to see if anyone bites.”
I also asked local resident Mrs Shanley who lives in Adderley Street right next to the proposed development what she thought:
“I am very upset with this plan. If this goes ahead, I will be looking directly at a brick wall. This part of Hillfields is a little cul de sac and this will totally over power us. On top of that, we will have over 200 young people right on our door step doing the things that young people do. It is far too many for the area to cope with. I am also worried about just what and who will be attracted to the area to prey on the youngsters.”
Cllr David Welsh added:
“Residents are concerned that whilst you can’t point to all young people causing problems with noise, parties and general anti-social behaviour, it is an inevitable consequence of such a building situated in close proximity to a settled community estate. On top of that, it will be the coming and going at all hours, the extra cars and the worry that this development will attract unwelcome attention.”
Naeem has organised a petition which he will take to the Council and planning committee.
The Police have also been contacted about this to see what they have to say too. Let’s be honest: Hillfields has its fair share of issues other parts of the city don’t have to contend with. Putting over 200 potentially vulnerable young people, often away from home for the first time in their young lives, in an area where they could become new victims of crime would be foolhardy in the extreme.
We shall have to see what the planning committee decide.