Durham ‘saturated’ say local residents

By and

As part of its ten-year strategy, the University plans to increase Durham’s student population from 15,000 to 21,500 by 2027.

This plan is already in motion. John Snow College’s relocation from Stockton to Durham and South College’s opening for the 2020/21 academic year provided accommodation for 1,000 more students.

Durham’s student numbers have accordingly risen from 15,479 in the 2016/17 academic year to 20,268 in last year.

The existing pressure on the Durham rental market is well-known.

Data collected by Palatinate showed that rent prices increased this year. With a shortage of houses in Durham City’s centre, rent price increases are almost inevitable. One landlord described the problem as inching into Durham’s outskirts.

“In certain areas of Durham, you aren’t allowed to have any more student properties.”

The existing pressure on the Durham rental market is well-known

“I think that’s probably the reason why house prices in the likes of Gilesgate and the surrounding areas are going up.”

Palatinate spoke to a number of leaders of residents, associations, and local government to gauge the City’s perception of the existing and future impact of the University’s plans on Durham, especially in light of the recent approval for developers to replace Gilesgate’s Apollo Bingo Hall with private student accommodation.

Richard Hornby, the Chair of the Gilesgate Residents’ Association, said the decision was a huge loss for the community.

“The existing bingo hall is a valued community asset, and for those in our community who use it, it provides a much needed social opportunity, and a venue to relax, meet and make friends.

“It cannot also be forgotten that this is a place of work for a number of local people, who are likely to lose their jobs with this development.”

“Our additional concerns about this specific development are very practical: the closest existing properties to the development are bungalows for elderly residents, whose lifestyle and waking hours are naturally very different to those of students, which could lead to conflict and tensions.”

In response to planning approval criticism, Durham County Council maintained last year that “When assessing applications for any new development, we liaise closely with all relevant stakeholders and infrastructure providers to ensure the impact of development is properly considered. We will also give careful consideration to all points raised by members of the public.”

Janet George, the secretary of St Nicholas Community Forum (a Claypath residents’ association), said she personally saw the demolition as “cold-blooded”.

“The development of the bingo hall has taken a potential community asset from that area, [an area] which has little for the people living there.”

“The unsuspecting students who go there will meet huge resentment from local people who have lost the bingo hall and the students will bear the brunt despite it not being their fault whatsoever.” The City of Durham Trust concurred, describing the situation as one which: “the local community was very strongly against, as were the Parish Council, all three local County Councillors and the Member of Parliament.

“The development of the bingo hall has taken a potential community asset from that area, which has little for the people living there”

Janet George, secretary of st nicholas community forum

“Far better use of the site would be retention of the bingo hall or development of much-needed affordable housing.”

Palatinate contacted GW Architectural Ltd, who submitted the planning application, for but did not receive a response.

Concerns about new student accommodation blocks more generally were also raised — especially those on Silver Street, in the city centre.

Last year, a planning permission approval, involving a one-storey extension, triggered concerns over conservation of the historical inner city.

Regarding the construction of such buildings, the City of Durham Trust told Palatinate: “Generally, these are well-designed but too bulky for the local street-scene, and some seriously intrude in views of the Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site despite the protection that UNESCO and County Durham Plan policies are meant to ensure.”

A local resident told Palatinate: “Rather than developing property for other things, it seems that more student accommodation just keeps popping up [around the city centre].”

Fears over increased house prices, as a result of growing student numbers outpricing local residents and families, were rampant.

A Viaduct resident, Mike Costello, said: “The situation has definitely deteriorated in the last 5 years.”

Emma Backhouse, who also lives in the Viaduct area, said her personal view was that “there is nowhere to put these [extra] students. The city is saturated.”

“There is nowhere to put these [extra] students. The city is saturated”

Emma Backhouse, viaduct resident

The City of Durham Trust expressed concern that the local community is still reeling from the University’s expansion to 15,500 students in 2013.

During this expansion developers and landlords allegedly “bought up much of the working-class terraced housing in Durham, pricing out locals and resulting in whole areas without school-children, without neighbours for the elderly, without shoppers for half the year.”

“For their part, the former Durham City Council and then Durham County Council for many years resisted any planning policies to control conversions of family homes into Houses of Multiple Occupation.”

Walia Kani, who lives in the Elvet area, said that “the character of the city” is being lost as rising house prices push families out of the city centre.

Many do, however, see positives in the University’s expansion. Paul Howard, the manager of Durham Business Improvement District said: “Increased footfall in the city most certainly increases demand for retail, cultural, leisure and hospitality businesses and we are keen to ensure that we make the most of the associated economic opportunities.”

A local resident said: “The more people you can get in the area, spending money, the better the area is gonna become.”

The Chair of Gilesgate Residents’ Association described the area as “the definition of a balanced community, with a good mix of both students and permanent residents which can be advantageous to both.”

“The problem is that such a community is a very fine balance: we already have streets in Gilesgate where all the properties are occupied by students.”

“A balanced community with a good mix of both students and permanent residents can be advantageous to both”

Richard hornby, chair of gilesgate residents’ association

“The increasing number of HMOs also sadly leads to increasing numbers of three things that neither students nor permanent residents like: burglaries (inevitable if the majority of homes are vacant for four months of the year), absent landlords (it’s very hard to let someone know about a problem with their property if they’re in a different part of the country) and rats (landlords often don’t account for the extra rubbish generated by larger HMOs).”

As a means to circumvent the city centre’s housing shortage, the University aims to have 50% of students living in college-owned accommodation by 2027.

This plan was generally applauded. However, some felt it should be taken further.

George, secretary of St Nicholas Community Forum, said that she personally feels “the target for the amount of students in University accommodation should be increased to 70%”.

Another local resident, Vicky Matless, felt that the plans in their current state were unfeasible and that “the University needs to drop the prices of their accomodation to solve the issue”.

The Chair of the Gilesgate Residents’ Association further said: “I hope that having 50% of students ‘in College’ will lead to those who live in the HMOs within our community doing so because of the positive choice that they want to be in a friendly, dynamic community of people of all ages and all walks of life.”

“I suspect, however, that the answer in reality will be somewhat different, and may well depend on the quality, cost and value of the College accommodation.”

“The Government planning inspector who scrutinised the County Plan in 2019-20 expressed major reservations about the city’s ability to cope with any increases beyond the 2026/27 target in the University’s masterplan”

The city of durham trust

The City of Durham Trust saw the University’s pledge as a “comforting aspiration”. However, the Trust also felt that “the increase in Durham University student numbers has gone well beyond the ‘tipping point’ for community cohesion and balance” highlighting how “Oxford City Council’s policy is that the two Universities each should have only 3,000 students living out.

“In Durham 14,000 live out, in a city a quarter the size.”

On the matter of further increases in student numbers, the City of Durham Trust said: “The Government planning inspector who scrutinised the County Plan in 2019-20 expressed major reservations about the city’s ability to cope with any increases beyond the 2026/27 target in the University’s masterplan.”

Palatinate contacted the University for comment. Professor Claire O’Malley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global), Durham University, said: “We’re proud to be part of Durham and of the positive contribution we make to the City, County and region.

“We appreciate that, as with any university city, residents will sometimes have concerns. We welcome feedback, including via our Community Engagement Task Force, Durham University and Residents’ Forum and our Community Liaison Manager, Rebecca Eves.“

“We’re committed to fostering a positive environment for all who live, work and study here and we value open dialogue with partners, residents and others on how best to achieve this, together.”

Image: John Whitehouse via Flickr

3 thoughts on “Durham ‘saturated’ say local residents

  • “Oxford City Council’s policy is that the two Universities each should have only 3,000 students living out.”

    I’ve heard this said by Durham residents before but when I lived near there, there were a lot of students in ‘University managed’ houses, essentially the Uni leases the house from a landlord & then leases it to the students. It was a while ago but I think Oxford Brookes had 11,000 students living in houses like this.
    They are also still looking for more properties…

  • The university has gone from being an asset to the city and has become more of a Cancer on the city. Whole streets given over to students, no room for families, and no investment in the city other than that geared towards students. South college and John snow are a disgrace that should never have been allowed. More and more of the local residents are waking up to the negative impact of the university who quite frankly only seems focused on the money. Very little thought to the negative social impact of having such a large number of a non resident population in such a small place. We are thinking of leaving durham after decades of living here, locals don’t want to live on a campus.


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