Sandra White, MSP for Kelvin, has caused controversy after suggesting that Glasgow’s West End was in danger of becoming a “student village”, as she asked the Scottish Parliament what was being done to tackle the over-provision of student accommodation.
The SNP member asked Housing Minister Margaret Burgess what action the Scottish Government would take to protect local communities from excessive amounts of student housing. She said: “In my constituency, some areas are in danger of losing what are age old communities and in danger of becoming student villages.”
Ms White also asked if Margaret Burgess would meet with community councils to discuss the issue, to which Ms Burgess answered that the matter was not a national one and was for local councils to deal with housing provisions. Ms Burgess has, however, agreed to meet with Ms White to talk the issue over.
Ms White’s raising of the issue in public has been criticised by many students and by Glasgow University’s Students Representative Council (SRC).
The SRC issued a response to the Kelvin MSP in which Jessica McGrellis, SRC President, told
Ms White that: “The SRC were disappointed to see in this article that you were questioning the Housing Minister about how the Scottish Government are planning to stop over-provision of student housing to stop communities becoming ‘student villages.’”
McGrellis pointed out that although not all students of the University of Glasgow choose to live in the West End, the area is seen as safe place for those that do want to stay close to the University facilities that they may be using until late at night.
The statement continued to criticised Ms White’s decision to raise the issue on a national level, saying: “Raising this type of question in such a public manner also risks not only alienating the student voting population, but also potentially stigmatising students and student accommodation in general.”
McGrellis pointed out in her statement that students should be seen as a positive for a community. She said: “The West End thrives as a community because of the number of students who energise the area.”
VP Education Oli Coombs also criticised Ms White’s comments. Taking to Twitter, he said: “Comments from @SandraWhiteSNP about student housing are unfair, untrue and sow lines of division in her constituency.”
Ms White replied, saying that her comments were “not meant as criticism” and that the issue was “about balance.”
The SRC was not alone in voicing its concern at the comments, with other students and members of the community taking to social media to join the debate.
Ferdinand Goetzen said: “Sandra White’s comments are purely based on her fear that there is an increase of a ‘non-voting’ student demographic in an unstable constituency that she is only just in the lead in. She should be engaging students, getting involved, appearing on campus and even joining the SRC with the Council to improve the housing situation for students, not alienating them.”
Former SRC President James Harrison also shared his opinions, arguing that the area actually needed more student accommodation after the increase in undergraduate intake last September by almost 1,000 students. Harrison said: “It’s becoming increasingly apparent that there aren’t enough halls spaces for first years any more. I believe [that] due to an increase in first year numbers last year the University had to put students in hotels until they found them an alternative living space. More student accommodation is needed in the area.”
However, Community Councillor Gavin Carre disagreed and defended Ms White. Carre commented that: “In the past two years, there has been a surge in dedicated student residences being built in the Partick, Yorkhill and Kelvingrove areas. This has noticeably affected the West End in both positive and negative regards.”
Carre continued: “As a relatively insular entity, the student body generally fails to consider the community around it, and dedicated student halls are more noticeable in this. The drunkenness, anti-social behaviour and noise around these halls is a cause for concern.
“I do not believe Sandra is saying here that students shouldn’t live within the West End, but instead is saying that the communities have had enough of insular and dedicated Student Halls being thrown up with little regard for the communities around them.”
The past few months have seen several private developers commit to building dedicated student housing in Glasgow’s West End, including an £18 million development on Kelvinhaugh Street, a £17.5 million development on the former BBC site of Queen Margaret Drive and a £15 million student housing project on Dumbarton Road by ALUMNO Developments.