St Andrews students hit out in HMO debate

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Students in St Andrews claim their concerns are being ignored over the implementation of Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) policy.

It will see a cap on the number of homes granted the licence – with many of the properities across town rented to students.

Fife is only the third local authority in Scotland to take such a stance following huge debate locally.

Paloma Paige, University of St Andrews Student president called the policy disappointing, adding that it was frustrating that students’ views weren’t being listened to.

She Paige said: “The decision made by the Community and Housing Committee in August 2018 disregarded all evidence that said the HMO moratorium had not resulted in any positive outcomes. They also ignored the overwhelming student outcry against a cap in St Andrews.”

She added that the decision wouldn’t solve the housing shortage, and students would “continue to struggle through a ridiculously competitive housing market”, where they “felt pressured to accept properties with unreasonable rents and lack of quality”.

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Ms Paige had previously spoken out about landlords locking bedrooms to get around the need to even have a HMO licence.

She added: “So long as the number of HMOs is capped, I believe landlords will be incentivised to let one and two-bed flats.”

However, students at the university are not viewing it as local residents trying to get rid of them. Ms Paige said: “They are smart enough to appreciate that a HMO threshold policy was never designed to help them, but equally that the town desperately needs a solution that works for both us and locals.

“What makes students feel unwelcome is when their views and concerns are consistently disregarded by those responsible for creating such solutions.”

However, local St Andrews Councillor Brian Thomson rejected the claims.

He said: “I understand that Fife Council officers proceeded with the online survey for students after discussions with the Students’ Association, as it was felt to be the most inclusive method, by giving every student in St Andrews the option of participating.”

He stressed that the policy was something the town was in dire need of, as there it has a significant shortage of affordable housing.

He said: “I fully recognise that the university is hugely important to the town, and the wider Fife and Tayside economy.  St Andrews would not be the place it is without the university. Students contribute hugely to the town, and make it such a vibrant, diverse and enjoyable place to live and work.

“Whilst the university’s importance to the town is undisputed, a consequence of the its growth over a number of years, has been intensified demand for HMO properties. There is now an extremely high provision in St Andrews, making up nine per cent of the total number of domestic dwellings, rising to 17 per cent in the central conservation area.  In a number of streets, the percentage of HMO properties is over 50 per cent –   St Andrews has the highest percentage of HMO properties in Scotland, by a huge margin.”

A decision on the cap has still to be set, with councillors having the option of a zero to three per cent limit on the number of licences granted each year. Zzero would mean that no new licences are granted, while a three percent cap would see around 200 approved.

Councillor Thomson added: “There is no shortage of student accommodation in St Andrews, and the university is to be commended on embarking on its build programme to provide around 900 additional bed spaces.

“A significant number of those beds spaces were recently delivered when the Powell and Whitehorn Halls were completed in October 2018, providing an enhanced range of available accommodation. However, if the university is to continue growing, it should develop more, affordable student accommodation.”

A decision on the policy is expected to be made at the Communities and Housing meeting on April 11.