Plea not to lose the ‘town-gown’ compact

St Andrews University accommodation at Fife Park in the town
St Andrews University accommodation at Fife Park in the town

As St Andrews Community Council lodges objections to still more applications for houses in multiple occupancy (HMOs) the university has moved to defend the number of students studying in the town.

The community council has objected to applications for three flats at Kinnessbrook to be approved as HMOs.

The three applications came from St Andrews letting agency Stonehouse Lettings on behalf of two owners.

But the flats were only recently completed and the community council contends that to award an HMO licence would violate the local plan which rules out the use of new properties as HMOs unless specifically built as HMOs.

Pennry Uprichard, the council’s planning convener, has told the council that considering temporary occupation of accommodation of new build homes as grounds for overruling the policy would “create an appalling precedent in a small town which is already being overwhelmed by requests for HMOs”.

Applications for permission to convert the three flats to HMOs were refused only in June, and Ms Uprichard questions why the new applications were accepted so soon after that.

The bid for more HMOs comes as St Andrews University defends itself over criticism that there are too many students now in the town.

In a recent issue of the Citizen, South Street resident Colin McAllister said that it was “quite irresponsible of the university to expand as much as it has done without providing accommodation in new residences”.

He also described the university as having “freeloaded on the town for far too long”.

But the university’s director of communications, Niall Scott, responded quoting research from 2012 that showed the university and its students generated £485 million a year for the Fife and Scottish economicies, directly supporting about 9000 jobs in the town and further afield.

“For every £1 of public money received for teaching and research, the university and its students return a little over £12 to the Fife economy,” he continued.

“The truth is that while some tensions in a successful town of this size are to a degree inevitable, the use of such pejorative and ill-considered language ignores the facts and diminishes a mutually nourishing town-gown compact that has defined St Andrews for over 600 years.”

Mr Scott said that the university now housed more students in university owned and managed accommodation than any other Scottish university.

But, he said, a number of student beds were not occupied at present, despite often being cheaper than private acommodation. More than 150 of the university’s own student rooms were vacant, along with more than 200 of 376 bedrooms provided in the private sector, with 50 of those occupied being taken up by St Leonards pupils.