Durham University expansion plans prompt anger from local community

By Clara Gaspar

A forum discussing Durham University’s expansion plans resulted in heated dialogue from members of Durham’s local community on Thursday.

250 residents, business leaders, staff and students and others attended ‘University and City: Growing together’, a community engagement event held in Durham City.

The community event was chaired in order to listen to residents’ views on Durham’s estate masterplan, which aims for an increase in student numbers of around 5,600 by 2027, including students moving to Durham City from Stockton.

The evening saw speeches from Durham’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, Ian Thompson, Corporate Director of Regeneration and Local Services at Durham County Council and Assistant Chief Constable Dave Orford of Durham Constabulary.

This was followed by round-table discussions which then fed back to University staff.

“We are a highly ambitious university in a highly ambitious city.”

Vice-Chancellor Corbridge highlighted the need for transparency about the University’s expansion plans with members of the local community. He told attendees, “We are a highly ambitious university in a highly ambitious city.”

However, many residents expressed their frustration with the plans.

‘It is safe to say that we are angry’ said one resident, “We are angry about expansion. We are angry about this word ambition and the greed.”

He told the Vice-Chancellor, “You have outsourced accommodation to the city and the city has died because of people buying the houses and turning them into HMOs (Housing in Multiple Occupation). There’s a shortage of young people. We don’t see children in the city. Durham city is a classic failure of town planning.”

One resident expressed fears that the “City is bending to the University agenda”.

Another attendee told the University panel: “If you want to make Durham City into Durham Campus then we’ll bugger off.”

Corbridge highlighted the masterplan’s aim to make Durham University a pioneer in computer sciences and mathematics, striving for developments in visualisation and big data.

The plan also aims to introduce 300 new academics to the University.

However, one resident questioned this need for growth: “Does the University have to be bigger to be better?”

“Does the University have to be bigger to be better?”

After a heated feedback session, Professor Corbridge told attendees that the University would take their concerns into serious consideration:

“We need a bit of time to digest everything that’s come out today. We want a bit of time to think about what we have been able to discuss as a community at this event.”

Photograph: Durham University via Twitter

4 Responses

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  1. er
    Apr 14, 2018 - 11:13 PM
  2. George
    Apr 15, 2018 - 12:12 PM

    As a 64 year old who has worked around the world, I used to be proud to tell people I was from Durham and spread the name of Durham to everyone I have met around the world, however I am now embarrassed when I speak to people who have visited and been disappointed by the city.
    If you wish to have a coffee, then you are well catered for!
    If you’re a student and wish to meet with friends over a coffee and have free Wi-fi – then you are catered for!
    If you’re a student and want accommodation then you are catered for!
    Regretfully, the cathedral is a jewel in a degrading city, ruined by the current controlling council with there closures and planning approvals!!

    Reply
  3. Mrs Carol Rolling
    Apr 15, 2018 - 07:11 PM

    I was born in Durham City 80 years ago and have lived here all my life and until recently I loved my home city. Over the years I have experienced the effects of ever increasing student numbers and watched the lifeblood of the City slowly sapped away as student properties began to look more and more like slums with their dirty windows and undrawn curtains and to let signs proliferating on more and more City centre properties, pushing out the towns people who were once customers of the shops in Durham. These “slums” are a very poor adverts for visitors to the town as they are to be found on almost all approach roads to the town.
    Now shops cater for the needs of students and as they are only resident in the City for about six months of the year, the shops close down unable to make a living. There is nothing of interest other than the Cathedral and castle left in the town centre and for this reason I cannot even remember when I last ventured into Durham. I simply no longer feel part of the City and that is sad.
    My City has been torn apart and it is no longer an attractive place to be. New buildings replace those that had character and a charm in keeping with their historic surroundings and replaced by very modernistic architecture which in the right setting would be quite spectacular, but sadly Durham isn’t that setting and it looks ugly and totally out of place in our once beautiful City.
    I am not against students – far from it – I was once one myself. However I am against the University hierarchy who are foisting their ambitions on us and pushing us out of our own hometown. The ratio between students and towns people is out of balance and is set to become much worse with the projected increase in student numbers. You would appear to have no control over the behaviour of the students already here, so how do you propose controlling the increased numbers.
    You have lost the goodwill of the people. The City isn’t big enough to support this huge influx of people invading our space! Recently the people of UK felt the same about immigrants and we all know the consequence of that. This is the same thing happening in Durham

    Reply
  4. JJB
    Apr 20, 2018 - 06:27 PM

    The disappointing thing is that – despite Professor Corbridge’s words at the end of this piece – I have no faith that the Vice-Chancellor will take any account of peoples’ fears and concerns. All he seemed interested in was getting his own way, with a consultation designed to enable the University to overcome (rather than listen or respond to) local objections, and an approach which assumed that objections were the result of people not understanding the true majesty of the Professor’s vision. It’s part of the University Strategy (i.e. the Vice-Chancellor’s Strategy), so it must be right, and it must be done, so get out of my way.

    I’m sure we’ll have the growth regardless, but will he still be here to see us suffer the consequences? Is this really about making the University and the City better, or is this a notch on his professional bedpost, a stepping stone to a bigger career at a bigger University?

    There are people who have made their lives in Durham, and who will spend their lives in Durham. For them, this isn’t a temporary diversion, it is something which has an enormous impact on their environment and circumstances. They deserve to be listened to, and they deserve to be treated with respect.

    Reply

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