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Locals discuss ‘studentification’

With two successful universities in the region, Leamington Spa and Coventry have become part of an ever-growing list of places to feel the presence of students. Some may argue that these areas are undergoing a process of ‘studentification’. Studentification refers to the changes brought about by an increasing student population in a particular area, changes which can often have a dramatic impact on the lifestyles of locals.

The University of Warwick’s rapid expansion over its 50-year history into a university with approximately 25,000 students has undoubtedly changed the local area.

The number of students living in Leamington Spa has tripled over the last 15 years

The number of students living in Leamington Spa has tripled over the last 15 years, according to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the group South Leamington Area Residents (SoLAR). The reveal of this information was followed by calls to slow the growing student population in Leamington’s Old Town as new student accommodation was being proposed on Althorpe Street. Despite this, the plans went ahead and the new student accommodation had its first residents this academic year at The Union Leamington.

Since students usually seek accommodation in Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs), this growth in the demographic has been accompanied by a growth in the number of such properties. A Freedom of Information request revealed that there are currently 1,352 HMOs in Leamington Spa, out of the 1,477 in the district. HMOs are a favourable option for landlords because they produce more revenue, but they risk pricing out locals.

Back in December, Trafford Council in Manchester passed an emergency Article 4 Direction to limit family homes being lost by conversion to student properties in the form of HMOs. As a result, planning permission is now required for the changing of properties from dwelling houses to HMOs. This is not a step that has been taken by any of the local authorities surrounding Warwick’s campus, despite this action being called for by Coventry locals who oppose the studentification of areas like Cannon Park. This comes as it was reported that the number of student homes in Coventry rose by a quarter in just one year in 2015.

People are targeting their services towards students

What is even more powerful than these statistics are the personal testimonies of the local residents and businesses within these areas. Many have lived their entire lives in Leamington and, for years now, have experienced the influx of students into the town.

Gurjinder Dhaliwal, who works as a property developer and has previously been a business owner in the town, explained how students have affected the housing market: “People are targeting their services towards students”. Drawing on his experience, the resident said that “property developers in this area are adjusting their strategies to target students because that’s more profitable”. He explained that “people are developing with student rental in mind” and this “has inflated property prices which has a negative effect for residents of the area who want to get onto the property ladder.” The Telegraph reported last year that Leamington Spa was among only 12 non-southern towns in the UK that have seen property prices increase above the national average, with a 273% increase in the last two decades.

We arrive onto this windy campus from all over the world, spend three years here in a haze of nights out, caffeine and essays – and then, we’re gone

As Warwick students, we have a somewhat fleeting relationship with the town and the areas surrounding the university. We arrive onto this windy campus from all over the world, spend three years here in a haze of nights out, caffeine and essays – and then, we’re gone. It is important, however, that we are conscious of what effect our few years here have on the people we leave behind: the residents.

Another Leamington local in his mid-forties, who works as a community arts organiser, echoed the concerns about housing in the local area. “The main negative impact is the effect [students] have had on the housing market, because when you have a large influx of students, who are prepared to pay £140 a week for a room in a shared house, they get prioritised over residents in need of social housing.”

This comes as Leamington and Warwick MP, Matt Western, lobbies Warwick District Council who are planning to sell their current Riverside House headquarters to developers to build 170 new homes, none of which will be social housing. Only 47 new council homes have been built in the district since 2010. The Labour MP said: “It seems scandalous to sell off the Riverside House site purely for 100 per cent private housing, with no social, affordable or council housing on the site.” The move by the council would contradict their own planning policy, which calls for 40% affordable housing on developments spanning more than 11 properties.

Students could make a difference to the community if they engaged more with the residents

It is clear that local residents have many grievances regarding the increasing student population in Leamington. “Students are eligible for council tax deductions… which means they don’t contribute to local infrastructure… so all the people who pay council tax in the area are subsidising the students… [as a result] local councils end up worse off,” said the community arts organiser. Indeed, the loss in council tax for Coventry City Council due to student housing is estimated at £6.5 million per year. The Leamington local went on to say that this was not the fault of the students, but caused instead by “the greed of the landlords…[because] students don’t have the power to negotiate” claiming that it is “the government’s responsibility to address the landlords’ lawlessness”. He proposed that students could help to foster better relationships with the local community “if they engaged more with the residents”, claiming that, as a result, “there would be less of this student blame and more understanding”.

This could be in the form of projects like Leamington Winter Shelter (LWS), which was founded by Warwick medicine students in January 2016. The shelter is an example of how student spirit can help the local community.

The concept of studentification, however, is not unique to the areas surrounding our campus. Cities like Leicester, Durham and Liverpool have similarly become saturated with purpose-built student accommodation. While plans in Coventry to build a brand-new £22 million student village in Canley were approved at the end of last year, despite the proposals being met with protests from residents of the area. Canley Council have also been lobbying against the decision, with councillors Skinner, Mayer and Lapser saying in a joint statement: “We reject the developer’s view that this redevelopment would reduce pressure on the local housing market”.

As the university proposes only to increase its expansion further, student presence in the local area shows no signs of slowing. The effect this has on the local area is yet to be discovered. However, the future, as one resident stated, “lies in the hands of the government to make everything fairer”.

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