The row over the proposed relocation of Ustinov college has grown in intensity following a series of town halls meetings where students and the University’s Executive Committee UEC) have met to discuss the plans.
In July it was announced that Ustinov College would be forced to relocate from its present site in Howland’s Farm to Sheraton Park in Neville’s Cross in the 2018-19 academic year.
The plans were proposed partly as a result of the University’s decision to move Stephenson and John Snow Colleges from Queen’s Campus to Durham City,
With a final decision on the University’s plans for Ustinov due in the autumn, seven JCR presidents and three sabbatical officers from Durham Students’ Union (DSU) were present at one town hall meeting at the College on 11th August.
At the meeting, Megan Croll, JCR President at St Cuthbert’s Society, spoke on behalf of the JCR presidents unable to attend.
Tom Addinall-Biddulph, DSU Liaison Officer for the Ustinov Graduate Common Room (GCR), was one of many who emphasised concerns about the University’s consultation process, raising the issue that 86 percent of participants of a GCR survey either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposed move of Ustinov College.
News of Ustinov’s relocation became public before any opportunity for student consultation, with Ustinov GCR President Kirstyn Raitz reportedly told of the plans several weeks before the July announcement and sworn to secrecy by College staff due to concerns over job security.
David Cowling, Acting Vice-Chancellor due to Stuart Corbridge’s absence, said it was “regrettable” that UEC had not been able to share details of Ustinov’s relocation earlier, citing the delay was “for reasons of commercial sensitivity.”
Throughout the two-hour meeting, students were often encouraged “to keep an open mind” about the University’s plans.
Though the UEC has argued that the 418 new high-quality study bedrooms built in closer proximity to the University would compensate for the 30 percent decrease in live-in accommodation at Ustinov, the UEC was criticised for not intending currently to construct many facilities at the new site which were previously available the current site.
Some students argued that Ustinov was about to be “downgraded” for being an exclusively postgraduate college.
Addinall-Biddulph told Palatinate that the GCR remained “deeply concerned” by the University’s proposals.
He said, “We were given very few clear answers and a number of patronising responses suggesting that we don’t understand the situation and that if we just use our imagination the new site can be everything we want it to be.
“We can’t imagine a bar and the other facilities we would lose at Sheraton Park, nor can we use our imagination to ignore the site’s problematic proximity to private residences.
“We are disappointed that the Acting Vice-Chancellor could not give us a straight answer, despite his insistences that no decision has yet been made, as to whether he could envisage any realistic scenario in which Ustinov is not moved.”
In a statement to Palatinate, the University said, “Sheraton Park provides high-quality accommodation, is close to the University, and ensures the future of Ustinov as a graduate community.
“We have been in discussions with the developer to ensure that Sheraton Park has the facilities required to operate as a college community.”
‘We think that the development at Sheraton Park, along with other proposals that we are making as part of the University Strategy, will create a greater diversity of accommodation options within a college community and that the Strategy will protect and enhance the University’s sustainability and attractiveness to the very best students.”
The UEC’s final report to the University Council, the University’s ultimate governing body, is due on 20th September.
Photograph: Michael Baker