Comment & Opinion
by Archie Ratcliffe Archie Ratcliffe

A week ago yesterday, Canterbury City Council’s planning committee was presented with the three planning applications involving the construction of student flats.

It approved the schemes at the former Dairy Crest site in Military Road and on the former coach park and Serco site, part of the wider Kingsmead regeneration project. But it rejected the Guy Hollaway proposal for the former St Mary Bredin School.

It’s all very well approving what is called purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), but the truth is Canterbury is facing a housing crisis: there are thousands languishing on the council’s housing waiting list.

And the problem with PBSAs is that they are only be suitable for students aged roughly between 18 and 22.

They are overwhelmingly used by first year university students, and it is often these very students who will use the new accommodation wildly, before the pressures of later years’ studies set in.

The former St Mary Bredin School in Canterbury

More to the point, we just don’t need them. I’m not speaking as some silver-fox nimby – I’m a student who is not convinced of the value of PBSAs.

We already have rooms lying empty and yet planing permission has been granted for more. There are even further applications in the pipeline.

With three large and growing universities in Canterbury, these applications may initially seem justified.

More than 1,200 beds are expected to be created in these buildings. Yet once you start digging, much of the evidence does not justify the need for them.

Firstly, Christ Church students predominantly commute from other areas of Kent and south-east London. This is why the university hasn’t filled the accommodation available to it.

At the other end of the city, the University of Kent has enough housing on its hilltop campus. Why would first years want to travel from PBSAs in Canterbury city centre when they could live on campus, close to their classes?

But this is just the start of the problem. PBSA buildings have no real longevity and are useless to any other demographic.

I have read comments from various members of the public who strongly object to yet more student accommodation. Having attended some planning meetings, I see the obvious concerns residents have.

The objections raise the points that traffic will worsen, air and noise pollution will rise, and the student presence will be very noticeable. No wonder they are concerned. I would be.

Instead, what we ought to be doing is striking a fair balance between the needs of residents and students.

We have a chronic lack of social housing and affordable housing in our area. Why is the planning committee not doing more to strike the necessary balance? We need mixed-used developments – and council-led ones at that.

The council would be wise to focus on trying to facilitate the creation of developments that can be occupied by students if their numbers are rising and permanent residents if they are not.

Cllr Alan Baldock, leader of the Labour group on the council believes the authority should “re-employ a city architect to ensure design and functionality are at the heart of mixed-used city developments, preferably led by the council rather than private contractors”.

I would like to see the council work with the community, with residents and students all of whom can inform it of what they think it needs.

Thus we could reach a compromise to make sure new developments are capable of serving not just students, but all demographics across the whole city.

Archie Ratcliffe is a second year law and politics student at Canterbury Christ Church University. He has done work experience with Canterbury and Whitstable MP Rosie Duffield.

5 Comments

  1. He is right, balance is needed. There are a huge number of single men, young and old, looking for a home. Most houses of multiple occupation are not suitable for middle/older age group. Some of these student lets would be great for them. Needs more thought to use the inlet accommodation in these blocks.

  2. Are you actually dumb? Canterbury has 30,000 homes being built by the college – plenty for everyone to get a house but oh wait, Canterbury has one of the highest homeless rates and lowest incomes so who is going to buy any of these houses? They’ll probably get bought and rented out as a student house like all the other houses in Canterbury. Hence the waiting list, people are aware of those house even if you are not.

    PBSAs has an average of 23 year olds in them in Canterbury so your “only useable for 18-22” is rubbish, some houses especially Parham acts as social housing for the council too, if you went anywhere near Glenside Avenue you would see this…

    3 large growing universities… have you done any research for this piece of “journalism”? Cccu is falling by about 7% every year – UoK is falling by 6% and UCA may shut this year because of numbers being so sparse!

    I agree the 1,200 new beds “for students” isn’t exactly needed but they aren’t just used for that. They also, by building these make it cheaper for students and as you are one you’d surely know how much it would cost if you lived in Petros – now it will go down.

    Public data shows that 61% of students at CCCU live there so your “most commute” is a lie, as I said earlier, did you do any research?

    A lot of Kent students do live on “hilltop” campus, but they’re all almost full so they need to use the surrounding area to live – which they do, right down to Wetherspoons. Have you ever gone passed the Westgate towers? Haha!

    “I have read comments from residents” everyone can look at the residents group on Facebook, Archie! Well done, 10 house points!

    If they’re only for students then how do they create more traffic? More air pollution into the city?

    There already is a massive divide between residents and students – how long have you lived here? It’s very clear to see the separation and how dead everywhere gets because of reading weeks and breaks.

    The planning committee are trying to balance out the city – not just the one development plan meeting you seem to have gone to! There is quite a few developments happening at the moment!

    There’s a 30,000 housing estate about to get built, with a hospital, bowling alley, park and shopping – right out the way of students, specifically built for residents and social housing… That’s thrown the whole point of your story out the window a bit…

    If the leader of the Labour group can’t get a new city architect then he clearly has no power in the office and shouldn’t have been reached for comment.. do better journalism!

    “I would like to see the council work with the community, with residents and students all of whom can inform it of what they think it needs.” Are you actually dumb? That’s what the planning meeting you clearly went to is for… it isn’t the council’s fault if not many from community, resident and students go, is it? And why didn’t you speak up if you went? If you did you clearly used the sort of fact finding here and probably got shushed very quickly!

    But you say you’ve attended planning meetings, did you not see the city architect at previous meetings? Did he not talk about the plan? I went to 3 – he was at all of them. Did you just not understand? You clearly haven’t by the lack of fact finding in your so called journalism that I have outlined above.

    Try and actually talk to people to find out the truth before you write something like this again. And shame on CanterburyJournal for posting this without fact checking it!

    Classic Politics and Law student! Just get disgruntled and go on a massive rant with no fact finding or knowledge. Clearly only been anywhere near Canterbury for your degree and a part of the problem.

    If you did work experience with Rosie Duffield, why couldn’t you get a response from her? She probably knows the truth…

  3. The article actually raises a couple of good points: it would certainly have been more useful to build more flexible accommodation, I agree.
    But it also misses some points too: any new accomodation is good, and here’s why:
    Extra student accommodation means fewer students living in smaller houses – such as in the Martyrs Field area and Hales Place. This increases the availability of family rentals – and exerts some downward pressure on both rental and the sales markets, as extra houses are available.
    IF, as you claim, there is an excess of these students flats, then we can expect a downward pressure on student rents – you can bet these buildings are built on debt that needs occupancy to be repaid.
    Additionally, if there’s extra space, at static or lower rents, then some will doubtless be offered – and snapped up – by 2nd & 3rd year students, in turn freeing more shared houses for families.

  4. I doubt t any freeing up of houses for families will happen – what by to let landlord is going to let at a rent a family can afford an HMO for which he gets probably double to going rate.

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