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Nathan Burns is running as the Labour and Co-Operative candidate for Councillor of the University and Scotforth Rural Ward in the upcoming by-election.
Hi Nathan, tell us a bit about yourself – how have you involved yourself in student life and what brought you to stand this election?
I’m a second year Physics student famous for bringing toasters to Bowland college. I was co-chair of Lancaster Students for Europe and am currently Campaigns Secretary of the University Labour Club. As well as this, I organised the Remain campaign on campus during the referendum. Having gained this experience, running for the city council seemed to be the next natural step for me.
Will your priorities representing students be different?
If elected I’ll be able to work with the three other Labour students Lucy, Sam and Oscar on the council. I have first-hand experience being a student so when something like night time economy licencing curfew is brought up, I’ll be able to talk about student nights out in a way most other councillors won’t be able to.
Making nights out better and safer is one of my top priorities. I’ll advocate for a change in licencing laws so bars on campus and in town can stay open longer. Along the same vein, safety is a priority, especially in the wake of the attacks on privacy from the referendum. This means I will make sure to involve investment in better CCTV and street lighting.
I’d also like to tackle ripoff rents by lobbying the university on campus and setting up a safe landlord scheme off campus.
Transport is also an important part of this campaign; I live near the bus station in town and have often found that the bus is too full to allow people on which can cause stress and disruption to student life. If elected I’ll lobby Stagecoach for cheaper fairs in general as well as working towards scrapping the £1 fee for bus pass holders on the night bus.
What are Labour’s plans for the city?
Budget cuts from central government mean that local authorities across the country are struggling to implement big schemes, so our priorities have to be protecting vulnerable citizens with things like Council Tax Support. The City Council is currently in the middle of developing a project at Salt Ayre’s Leisure Centre. The project is worth £5 million in investments towards top fitness training equipment and facilities in order to create a ‘community hub’ enviroment. This includes Europe’s first ever Flight Tower and luxury spa; all in an effort to provide more accessible and affordable healthy living to the local community. One of my aims, if I am elected, is to ensure we keep businesses more involved and interested in expanding and contributing to local life. A great example of this is how the council helped organise collaborative events like the Lancaster Music Festival and Light Up Lancaster, which were valued and enjoyed by the local community.
While students voted to remain in the European Union by a margin of six to one, Lancaster District overall voted to leave the European Union. Why do you feel this fragment exists?
The Remain vote on the university campus was very high. The Morecambe part of the district was different—often seaside towns feel let down by the establishment. The result was very close but a general anti-establishment mood seemed to be the driving force behind Brexit. I’d like to do more to integrate the students in the town by, for instance, expanding the Green Lancaster eco-hub initative off campus.
What are your views on the Higher Education and Research Bill that will involve fees going up, a focus on increased access to education, centralisation of research funding, a new Office for Students and increased competition?
The bill has a lot of worrying components. Take the proposition to let higher performing universities like Lancaster charge up to £250 more than the current £9000 cap in tuition fees; not only will this put young people in even more debt, it also sets a precedent for the stratification of higher education. For bright young people in deprived areas this could mean having to choose between a cheap education and a high quality education. The bill also means that maintenance grants will decrease, which will hit the poorest students hardest. I support some parts of the bill such as the commitment to increasing diversity in universities but overall, I think it needs big changes. I’d urge everyone to sign the petition on this issue, set up by the other Labour University ward Councillors Lucy and Sam:
What plans do you have to tackle the “cost of living” crises facing many students, particularly high accommodation costs on and off campus?
This is a massive issue. There simply is not enough cheap accommodation. Accommodation is becoming increasingly expensive; look, for instance at how fast rent prices have risen on the south west side of campus. On campus, I will lobby the university for a rent price freeze. In town, landlords make too much money from students; it’s hardly fair to charge a house £90 each in a house with seven tenants. I’ll work to expand the university’s student licensing scheme and try to help integrate it with council schemes to ensure that students get the best deal.
What are your views on the proposed plans to convert offices in St Leonard’s Gate nearby the Sugarhouse into student accommodation?
First things first, Sugar isn’t going anywhere. No Council worth its salt, Labour or otherwise, would be stupid enough to damage Lancaster’s night-time economy on the scale that shutting its biggest nightclub would. I will make sure any developments around the Sugarhouse will be conditional on developers paying for appropriate soundproofing to stop noise complaints that would hurt Sugar. The current Labour University ward Councillors have consistently raised these issues at their Night Time Economy Task group, and if elected I will work with them to ensure the protection of Sugar.
How can students make their voice heard both locally and nationally in the current environment that seems, at times, to be disinterested in student opinion?
The most important thing you can do is get out and vote! The Tories won the general election on the assumption that young people don’t vote and specifically targeted their policies towards elderly people. Aside from voting, I’d urge anyone wanting to make a difference to get involved with the student union and to campaign on local issues, as it really can make a massive difference.
How will you balance studies and casework?
This ward has traditionally been represented by students and it’s important that student voices are heard on the council, even if we do face academic pressures. Last year I organised the Remain campaign on campus during summer exams so I know I will be able to balance my political activities with my workload.
Election will take place on Thursday 8 December 2016