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Accommodation is something of a dirty word for students. Associated with it are high prices, rip-off deposit charges and general dissatisfaction. However, what we often don’t think about is the effect of the plethora of student accommodation in Lancaster on the local population. With the recent announcement that a new £20 million student village is in the pipeline here, Lancaster seems set to have even more of its housing given over to students.
There is no denying that student accommodation in Lancaster probably needs more thought. Catering for both Lancaster University and University of Cumbria students, combined with Vice-Chancellor Mark E. Smith’s aims to increase student numbers at Lancaster, more and more housing will be necessary off campus. However, as some opponents to the student village have said, the issue with transforming a run-down area is that during university holidays, it will continue to be a run-down, ghost-like area. While I would be all for more affordable student accommodation, it’s worth considering the impact we have on Lancaster’s local residents – and it isn’t necessarily always good.
Housing across the country is in crisis; we simply aren’t building enough houses to cope with demand, not just for students but for local residents also. By one estimate, It must, then, be frustrating for local residents when they see run-down areas, such as those surrounding The Sugarhouse, which could easily be developed into more housing. The difficulty is that the vibrancy of Lancaster that we as students see during term time simply disappears. Having spent much of Easter and part of the Christmas holidays in Lancaster this year, I can testify that this is the case; in fact, it is slightly eerie to walk around the city centre and not be surrounded by that student buzz. Students make up a seventh of the entire population of Lancaster, and university term times have come to act as natural seasons for local businesses. If we think about the local residents, the opinion would be divisive: some would be glad that students have left for some peace and quiet during the holidays, and some concerned that Lancaster’s city centre, its local economy, and its housing developments hinge on a student population that is away for a significant part of the year.
Is there a solution? The answer may have something to do with the fine detail of the construction plans. While LUSU President Laura Clayson has stated that no formal proposals have been submitted concerning the buildings surrounding The Sugarhouse, it does seem that a significant review of land use in the area is going to go ahead. Yet does it have to be exclusively student accommodation? If both students and local residents have a strong demand for housing – which is most likely the case – why not develop both? It is not unheard of for students and local residents to live in tandem with each other, particularly if the designs incorporate parking for local residents. Student housing in areas like Bowerham and Hala is often dotted around residential housing with far fewer social issues. In fact, this would probably encourage a greater integration of students and locals – something which the University and the local council have been working hard to achieve.
Given the amount of student accommodation developments in the city centre – for example, CityBlock’s developments – Lancaster City Centre is slowly turning into a student hub. While we may blindly congratulate this, it is worth considering that the University and the local population need to work together. Ignoring local residents’ housing needs over the needs of students is not, I think, the way to go.