Durham residents voice concern over University Estate Masterplan


Last year, the University announced a long-term plan for expansion in an “Estate Masterplan.” 

Included in the ten-year programme of investment are plans to create at least two new colleges, including one on Mount Oswald to accommodate students moving from Stockton and a large postgraduate college on the Sheraton Park site in Neville’s Cross.

The relocation of students from Queen’s Campus to a new college next to Josephine Butler will add another 5,700 students to Durham City.

Additionally, the University will have a maximum of 4,000 additional students by 2026/27.  In 2014, the University had approximately 17,500 students on record. In 2011, the population of the City was approximately 50,000.

For many at the University, this is positive news. In order for global universities to maintain and grow their reputations, large-scale investment is paramount.

Furthermore, the plans seek to improve some of the archaic parts of the University, particularly around New Elvet.

However, plans to expand the University raise questions about how the city can cope with continued expansion with many local residents fearing that the ‘town-gown divide’ will grow.

Deputy Mayor of Durham Dr Bill Moir said that news of the expansion “would come as a blow” to residents.

He told Palatinate that local residents “do express concerns about stretched local services including visits to the GP, Hospital appointments, and even the collection of waste.

“I was born in Durham and in my lifetime the University has grown beyond my expectation.

“The face of Durham City is changing and not everyone is going to be delighted by those changes.”

Many local residents have expressed concerns about the effect of ‘studentification’ on the private rental market in Durham. For a collegiate university, Durham has relatively low numbers of students living in college accommodation compared to other collegiate universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

This has led to many areas of the city containing streets exclusively full of student properties, with students making up 79% of the population of the Elvet Ward, according to the  2011 census.

Marie Walters, 45, a former resident of Crossgate, told Palatinate that as result of ‘studentification’, “areas of the city that used to have really strong communities have now vanished.”

With landlords buying housing to convert for the student rental market, the supply of property in central Durham available to local residents and families is becoming increasingly scarce.

John Ashby, 73, a retired senior council officer, is reported to have raised concerns that extra students will overwhelm the “tiny city.” Mr Ashby also drew attention to the behaviour of students, with late-night house parties and vomiting on streets being a weekly occurrence.

Residents Carrie-Ann Coxon and her partner Antonio Barbaro have reportedly been forced out of the Durham rental market. Ms Coxon said: “Everywhere we looked were student properties, and the houses on offer to us were poor quality or too far outside Durham for work.”

In response to residents’ concerns, the University told Palatinate: “The Durham University Estate Masterplan has completed its first phase of public consultation and we will continue to work closely with local residents, relevant statutory bodies, University staff, and students as the various individual projects are project progressed.

“We are keen to work with the community to ensure there is a positive environment for all who live and work in Durham, we welcome open dialogue and we meet with residents’ groups including Durham University Residents’ Forum (DURF) as well as with Durham County Council and other partners such as the police and local businesses.”

Dr Moir told Palatinate: “I grew up in Hallgarth Street in the 1950’s – certainly the Elvet community that was there is gone.”

However, Dr Moir did draw attention to the fact that since the 1960s, many close-knit communities have appeared in the suburban areas and villages around Durham

He said: “The sense of community and community identity in the city’s suburbs and villages outside the University bubble remains high.”

The University seeks to remedy the situation by aiming to increase the students living in college accommodation to 50-55% by 2027, which would take pressures off the private rental market, as well as working with purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) providers.

But, for most second-year students, the choice to live out with friends is preferable to staying in college.

With accommodation fees in college set at £6,940 for the academic year, many second-year students will also be incentivised to search for cheaper housing in the private rental sector.

[blockquote author=”” pull=”normal”]The sense of community and community identity in the city’s suburbs and villages outside the University bubble remains high[/blockquote]

However, the economic contribution the University makes to the small city is undeniable. The Deputy Mayor spoke about the positive economic role the University plays in the city.

He said: “With expansion comes opportunity and that opportunity includes employment and that expansion includes an increased opportunity for local young people to attend a world class University.|

Durham University generates £633.6 million gross-value added (GVA) a year to the North-East economy, supporting 10,330 jobs in the North-East. The University also adds £1.1 billion a year to the national economy.

The St Nicholas Scholarship offered by the University offers generous financial assistance to students from Newcastle to study at Durham.

Simon Henig, head of Durham County Council said last month that “Durham University is a huge asset the county and the wider region.”

Photograph: Durham University 

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