I’m probably one of very few people who believe that Bangor’s student accommodation issue is a result of local representatives failure to develop a constructive strategy, or message, on private student accommodation. A recent article in the Bangor Mail regarding the Jewsons development demonstrates the lack of clarity on student accommodation, and a distinct void in policy on the future of student accommodation in Bangor. As a local Councillor and a Sabbatical Officer I see the issue from both sides, and I am becoming increasingly worried about the standard of accommodation for students, the reduction in the number of ‘family homes’ in Bangor, and the growing animosity between the old Town and Gown.
Many proposed developments would have been damaging to the local area, not due to the nature of student accommodation, but due to the loss of sites for business development to create jobs and boost the local economy. The old Tax Offices, for example, whilst planning permission has been requested for student accommodation (now with planning for a hotel), student accommodation would, in this case, detract from business and investment opportunities.
However we cannot realistically continue to oppose the development of purpose built student accommodation in Bangor, whilst highlighting the negative impact of converting ‘family’ homes into Houses in Multiple Occupation.
The number of affordable homes in some areas are rapidly diminishing, and not only does this have an effect on the ability of people to come and work and live in Bangor, the environmental impact on changing 4 bedroom family houses into 6 bedroom student houses negatively impacts upon the perception of Bangor as a vibrant, welcoming, and attractive place to live and work.
For example, Albert Street/Field Street/Hill Street in Upper Bangor, small back gardens, and relatively small properties. Landlords are converting 3 bedroom houses into 5 (and more) and are extending into the back garden for more living space. Refuse is undeniably an issue – at least 3 blue boxes, a green wheelie bin, and a brown food bin, with no room to store them. Residents use plastic bags to dispose of waste and, for whatever reason, they are torn and rubbish spills across the road. This is an issue for private student housing, not complex developments such as Neuadd Wilis on Deiniol Road. Additionally, we have to keep in mind that all households create rubbish and waste. Parking is an issue, but families have cars, and few students bring cars to University.
We must change our approach to students and accommodating students (a body of people who bring business, trade and vibrancy to Bangor) within the City. Complaints of noise, litter and anti-social behavior as legitimate reasons to oppose student developments are wholly unfounded. All groups of society create litter, noise, play music, and can behave anti-socially; these are not societal problems that are characteristic of the student population.
We need a fair deal for students, and a fair deal for the community. Many student houses are in appalling conditions, in which many people wouldn’t expect others to live, however students tolerate this and society thinks that it is fair and acceptable. As the number of homes diminishes, so does the revenue from Bangor, which could impact upon those services that we do receive in the City. Neither situation appeals to either group of the community.
The permanent residential community feel as though the community feeling is diminishing, due to the regular flow of students in and out of student housing, therefore maintaining a higher number of ‘family homes’ would go some way to retaining that community feel. However, we should also be striving to ensure that students are seen as members of the community, as citizens of Bangor, and developing a diverse and vibrant community in Bangor.
We should be calling for a strategy to be developed that includes all local stakeholders, to develop a strategy that takes into account the needs of the community and the views of the community, whilst being able to suitably accommodate students in Bangor. We should be placing conditions on planning applications for student accommodation in Bangor to ensure that local representatives and representative structures deal with an ever-growing situation properly, ensuring an equitable treatment of all citizens in Bangor.
Without developing such a strategy, developments will be approved despite local objection, the number of residential (non student) homes will diminish, and students will continue to live in sub-standard accommodation where some landlords exploit students and the community, and it needed developing a long time ago.