On 30 January, a public meeting was called to discuss concerns around the increase in student accommodation in Glasgow. It was chaired by Sandra White, SNP MSP for Glasgow Kelvin and attended by local councillors, students, members of residents’ associations, council workers, and concerned local residents.
Words like “swamped”, “besieged” and “invaded” were used to describe the impact of new purpose built student accommodation on the local communities, terms that one local resident criticised, saying it “smacks of finger in the air postulation”. Sandra White was keen to point out, however, that this meeting was simply a chance to hear local concerns and feed them back to the council.
A local property developer raised the issue about the lack of concrete facts, with conflicting reports stating there was not enough versus too much student accommodation. He claimed that Glasgow is actually undersupplied when compared to other UK cities. However, one local resident presented his research into the issue; in December 2016, there were 6575 university owned beds and 7776 privately owned beds. Yet there are an additional 12165 that are currently being built, proposed, or have planning permission. If all of these were also built that would constitute a nearly 100% increase in existing provision. He went onto argue that these were only being built for the high returns on investment, “effectively using foreign students as cash cows”, adding that the council needs to address who actually owns these developments.
The targeting of foreign students was brought up by a number of contributors. Members of the Strathclyde Students’ Association criticised the fact that in order to get a student visa, prospective international students had to already have an address, and it is the private developers that can afford online marketing. SNP councillor, Angus Millar, also highlighted issues of integration and social cohesion saying that by concentrating so many international students in these types of developments, “they aren’t benefitting from the cultural experience of coming to Scotland and we, as Glaswegians, are not benefitting from the cultural experience of being able to mix with them.”
However, several students in attendance pointed out that it is not just international students who are affected, and that this type of “luxury student accommodation” tends to price out students from working class backgrounds or those that have come to university through widening access schemes. The high price point is pushing them to the outskirts of the city, where rent is more affordable but travel time and costs are increased.
Nina Baker, a Green Party councillor, said that it was not the students that local residents were concerned about, but the student accommodation. Indeed, although environmental and cleansing issues were touched upon, the blame was generally laid more upon the property developers and the council for granting them planning permission. Councillor Kenny McLean commented that issue was not about the level of student accommodation across the city but about its concentration in particular areas, such as Partick Cross, accusing the council of being too “laissez faire” in allowing developers to build what they want, when they want. Building on this, Councillor Eva Bolander criticised Glasgow City Council’s lack of clear planning guidance on what constitutes overdevelopment, stating that as 70% of all student accommodation is located in Ward 10 (Anderston and City), it is pretty close to, if not past, that line already. Some also argued that this overconcentration encouraged negative attitudes towards students, impacting upon social cohesion.
Aside from the numerous objections, there were also a number of solutions put forward, such as rent controls or a cap on number of student accommodation developments within a locality. Nina Baker suggested the establishment of student resident committees which could hold owners accountable, and also lead initiatives to integrate with the surrounding community. Liam McCabe of the Strathclyde Students’ Association discussed the prospect of student owned/run housing co-operatives, saying that currently an “othering” process takes place, victimising students and that the answer lies in giving them more control.
Following the meeting, Sandra White MSP posted that she will be taking forward the points raised with Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government. These include “looking at the provision and costs of student accommodation across the city with a comprehensive strategy put in place; new regulations to develop more affordable housing; supporting student led initiatives such as housing co-operatives; stronger spatial spread in future planning directives; review protected status of heritage buildings to safeguard for the future and establishing initiatives to seek better community integration”.