St Andrews HMO decision met with criticism

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A Fife Council committee has been accused of ignoring students and local councillors after agreeing to introduce a policy to restrict the number of HMOs in St Andrews.

Councillors will implement a limit on the number of future HMO licences granted in the range of zero to three per cent following a meeting of the Community and Housing Services Committee.

The proposed policy will now go out to consultation.

The committee’s preference is for zero new HMO properties, although a growth threshold between 0-3 per cent is an option.

A decision on this will be made when the committee meets in February 2019.

Following last week’s meeting, Paloma Paige, St Andrews Student’ Association president, described the decision as “disappointing”, pointing out that just one St Andrews councillor voted in favour of the option at the North East Fife Area Committee.

She said when the decision was made, the committee “was in effect ignoring not only the voice of students living in St Andrews, but also ignoring the lack of consensus among the St Andrews councillors”.

Ms Paige described the committee as being “under-informed” as regards to the housing situation in the town.

She added that, ahead of the February meeting of the committee, she will be gathering evidence of ‘locked bedrooms’ and other factors which have a detrimental impact on the housing market in St Andrews.

The decision has also been criticised by local councillor Jane Ann Liston, who has expressed fears that the proposed restrictions on new HMOs will not release homes into the mainstream market while at the same time worsening relations between the permanent residents and the students.

She said “students are being blamed for housing pressures”, adding: “It is very sad that, at a time when these young people are flocking eagerly back to the town, rather than rolling out a welcome mat, we might as well put up a sign saying ‘Go away’.”

She also raised concerns about the future of the ‘town-gown’ relationship, criticising “ill advised comments”.

She added: “Unfortunately it would appear that Fife Council has decided to single out students and pick on them while ignoring the other factors.

“It has just been reported, for example, that, far from students occupying every possible house in the town centre, a fifth of these are actually lying empty and unavailable for mainstream housing, a proportion likely to increase should the number of HMOs be capped.”

Councillor Brian Thomson, who put forward the initial proposal of zero new HMOs at a meeting of the area committee earlier this year, said he welcomed the decision of the committee.

He noted that St Andrews had the highest percentage of HMO properties in Scotland and that over the last 30 years, the resident population of the town had decreased by around 2000 people.

Cllr Thomson said that there was “no shortage of student accommodation in St Andrews” but recognised that “high rents and poor quality accommodation are issues that many students are faced with”.

He concluded: “I’m firmly of the view that any further increase in the number of HMO properties in St Andrews would further exacerbate the shortage of affordable housing, by reducing the ability of many families to purchase or rent open market family housing, and significantly threaten the viability of St Andrews continuing to be a sustainable, mixed community.

“It’s in the interest of all residents – students and permanent residents – to avoid that.”

With the committee’s decision last week, Fife Council becomes just the third authority in Scotland to implement this policy, following the lead of Dundee and Stirling.