Residents: Durham is now a “mess”

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Locals have slammed Durham University for “totally ignoring” their concerns about the ‘studentification’ of Durham City.

At a recent public meeting chaired by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Durham City MP, residents spoke out about disruptive student behaviour and the growing number of student-let houses in the centre of Durham.

Many residents even claimed that they feel “forced out of the city” as one young woman explained how she was disturbed late at night on Monday 2nd June by a student smashing plant pots and trying to break in to her house.

“I used to be proud to say I was from Durham. Now I’m ashamed.”

In an e-mail to the County Council Planning Department she said:

“This is one of a string of incidents that has made our lives an utter misery during the past few years. Time after time, we have had to call University Security to break up late and very loud student parties, as well as move large gangs of drunken students away from the street outside our house.

“We have also been physically threatened, neighbours’ windows have been broken, our children have been repeatedly woken up by gangs of loud, drunken students marching up our street, after which they have been too scared to sleep in their own beds and we have had to complain about piles of stinking rubbish falling out of damaged bags all over the street.”

Another resident, Denise Dodds, said: “I used to be proud to say I was from Durham. Now I’m ashamed.” whilst one woman described the city as a “bloody mess”.

Roger Cornwell, chair of the Crossgate Community Partnership, told Palatinate:

“Last week I experienced people throwing up in the street on a Sunday afternoon – it’s just not acceptable. The effect of studentification is clearly not ideal but it is made worse by the fact that the University doesn’t engage with us in a proper debate.”

The chair of the St. Nicholas Community Forum, Kirsty Thomas, echoed this view, saying:

“the University doesn’t engage with us in a proper debate”

“Trying to talk to senior University staff is like talking to a brick wall. The University, as an institution in the city of Durham, and a major employer, has responded to concerns about the demise of a balanced and harmonious community with remarkable detachment. It is as if the life of the city is really just a backcloth to the University, and if residents want to raise issues in a perfectly civilised way, they are just ignored or treated as rather a nuisance.

“The lack of interest in the place, an ancient historic city with a World Heritage Site, is quite depressing, as is the assumption that local people do not have anything worthwhile to contribute to senior management about living in a civilised community.”

However, Mike Costello, a resident in the Viaduct area, was keen to point out that their concerns do not simply represent an anti-student campaign:

“Our efforts are purely pro-city, not anti-student. We feel totally ignored by the University which washed its hands of this issue a long time ago. This month will be disastrous. I often have to call the police in the early hours of the morning due to student disturbances and I have to put up with wheelie bins overflowing with rubbish onto the road. These are regular occurrences on my street which has 70 students but only twelve permanent residents.”

Residents gathered at an Area Planning Committee meeting last Tuesday, voicing concerns about the 'studentification' of Durham City.
Residents gathered at an Area Planning Committee meeting last Tuesday, voicing concerns about the ‘studentification’ of Durham City

Residents voiced further outrage at the studentification of Durham City at an Area Planning Committee meeting held last Tuesday that saw two out of three applications to develop family homes into student houses rejected by councillors.

Durham County Council disclosed that for one of the applications it had received 36 letters of objection as well as a petition with over 50 signatures.

One resident spoke in objection to the extension of a two-bedroom family home on Whinney Hill into a six-bedroom student house, saying:

“Some of our neighbours have lived in the area for many years. One family had lived here for 40 years but they moved out this year because they’d had enough. Residents are moving out, students are moving in. This city is at risk of losing its permanent population.”

The number of students living on Whinney Hill currently stands at 330, significantly outweighing the 57 permanent residents.

In stark contrast to many residents, however, Paul Ford, owner of Cloth fancy dress shop, told Palatinate:

“The trade and vitality that students bring to Durham City is wonderful. I can’t imagine why people would complain. Over the summer months when students leave the city will be dead. Students give benefit to the city in a wide variety of ways, not just economically.”

In Palatinate’s exclusive interview with Professor Chris Higgins (see pages four and five), the Vice-Chancellor of the University responded to accusations that the University has ignored the concerns of residents, saying:

“Frankly without the University there wouldn’t be a city any more. That’s not to say that one or two students don’t occasionally go over the top and make rather more noise than is expected at a certain time of year but that has to be managed. We work very closely with the local police. They reckon student behaviour in this city is second to none.

“Frankly without the University there wouldn’t be a city any more”

“But students will always choose to live in the Viaduct, for example, and actually that’s not something the University can stop because students are adults and they have the right to choose wherever they would like to live. There are some people that don’t realise that the students are not in loco parentis any more.

He added:

“What we have to try and do is make sure there is a good choice [of accommodation] which is why we want to build more college accommodation but also make sure that it is accommodation that students would choose to live in. However, many will still choose to live in a house out in town – why wouldn’t they? So it’s not something we can really control.”

In a separate statement, Professor Graham Towl, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden of the University, said only:

“We take very seriously the concerns of residents within Durham. This is evidenced by our attendance at the Durham City Liaison Group chaired by the Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg.

“We are keen to work with the community to ensure there is a positive environment for all who live and work in Durham City and we welcome open dialogue.”

Photographs: Arthur Dimsdale,

2 thoughts on “Residents: Durham is now a “mess”

  • “Frankly without the University there wouldn’t be a city any more. That’s not to say that one or two students don’t occasionally go over the top and make rather more noise than is expected at a certain time of year but that has to be managed. We work very closely with the local police. They reckon student behaviour in this city is second to none.”
    The arrogance, lack of empathy and dishonesty are breath-taking. The public meeting made it clear that this man has brought the University into disrepute.

    Reply

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