The Shibboleth: HMO Hell


The most recent row over the future of HMO licenses in the centre of town is just another example of the strained town-and-gown relations here in St Andrews.

The Saint first reported in November the potential of Fife Council limiting the number of HMO licences that could be issued. The Union recently published information on how this could potentially affect St Andrews. The proposed motion would lower the amount of HMOs granted to properties in the town centre. They give many reasons for this, the most prominent being the idea that too many HMO licenses (read: students) erode the community. The way that the arguments are framed make it sound as though students are the root of all problems in this town with regards to housing, and getting rid of them would solve everything from high prices to limited parking. Sounds like snake-oil to me.

You do not have to be a student here for very long to encounter the headache of finding accommodation in this town. The University owned housing options are usually over-subscribed, and to get private accommodation you almost have to sell your soul to every demon out there. If this proposal passes this nightmare will probably only get worse: library-carpet worse.

The idea that house prices will go down with less HMO licenses seems optimistic to the point of naïveté. I would even have the audacity to argue that prices are high, because demand is high and supply is limited. Odds are, just as the Union suggested, that prices on student housing would increase since this will only further restrict housing options. The council wants to make housing more affordable for families in the centre of town, which is fair enough. But if we follow this through and think about the consequences, it doesn’t seem so cut and dry. Pushing students out of the centre of town only leaves one place for them to go: the rest of town.

This means that neighbourhoods that are now nice, quite residential areas will become infused with students. And if the demand for HMOs increase, following Fife Council’s logic, then the prices will sky rocket. Since they’re so affordable now. Perhaps the most important issue with this whole matter concerns what it implies about St Andrews as a town and community. Not once, from the research I have done, does the council concern themselves about the well-being of the students. They seem awfully interested in the well-being of “the community” but doesn’t seem to include students in that category.

Students, as seen by the Fife council, contribute nothing to the town and are just a nuisance that needs to be dealt with. This is the message that they send with this proposal and others like it. Students are characterised by anti-social behaviour and general delinquency. Of course, we aren’t saints, but to group us all together is discriminatory.

I won’t go so far as to claim that this town would be nothing without the university; there are after all several renowned golf courses and a beach or two. But students are as much a part of St Andrews and its character as anyone else in this town. We bring the revelry of Raisin weekend, the tradition of the Kate Kennedy Procession and the exuberance of May Dip.

This town is a student town, a golf town, a tourist town and a hometown. All these images contribute to the unique environment here. Without students this would be just another sleepy Scottish town, melting into obscurity with increased urbanization.

Fife Council, and this town, needs to face the fact that there is a very old, very respected and very large university in this town and what the implications of that are.

Hillevi Gustafson


  1. Although some students can be disruptive and anti social they are not the cause of St Andrews present and future problems. Students require and deserve decent affordable housing. At present they are not well served by private landlords exploiting the severe shortage of housing.
    However the fact is that they are forced to occupy houses to the exclusion of families who, because of cost, have no option but to move away. Many of them work in the University and other businesses and have to travel into the town increasing the parking problem and causing additional impact on the environment.

    What are the present and problems for the town of St Andrews?
    Answer : There is a critical shortage of families in the town and young people have to move away to raise families. Community sustainability, Gardens and premises neglected reducing the visual appeal of the historic town. Car parking is also a major concern

    • The number of children in the town is now considerably below the percentage for the rest of Fife and for Scotland as a whole, and a primary school has recently closed. Most of the migration away from the area has occurred within little more than two decades and has tended to accelerate during that time
    • Local Organisations such as Boys Brigade, Girl Guides and Churches have great difficulty in recruiting new members
    • Likewise The Rotary Club has an ageing membership and declining membership with the same difficulty in recruitment
    • The New Golf Club local membership has declined in past four years by 105 and their future is looking bleak because in order to compensate for the reduction in members fees will have to increase which will reduce membership further

    If the University took responsibility of providing quality affordable accommodation for students at at the property they have acquired at Guardbridge this would free up student second-homes as first homes for families. And it would save the environment from the impact of those people travelling to and from the town to work. The University could obtain income by renting out these properties to tourists during the summer months.


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