A report published by the University of St Andrews’ Centre for Housing Research has called on Fife Council, the University and the Scottish government to work together to solve housing problems in the St Andrews area.
The research found that as the number of students and staff at the University has grown, the pressure on the housing market has increased. The number of students and staff increased by 37 and 63 per cent respectively between 2002 and 2012. This has led to lower-income, local households being pushed further away from the town.
Two-thirds of students live in groups of three of more. These groups have a rent-paying capacity of £1,200 to £1,600 per month, setting the market at a price unfeasible for many non-students.
The report highlighted the danger of restricting HMO (Houses of Multiple Occupation) licenses within the town, especially the conservation zone. This will force student groups to look towards the suburbs for rental accommodation, further displacing local families who are unable to compete with their budgets. The properties which become available in the town centre are also more likely to be taken by University staff rather than poorer families. The report concludes: “There are grounds to conclude that the restriction of HMO within the town may be a policy with significant and negative unintended consequences.”
Furthermore, just over two in five students find their private rental accommodation through informal networks of friends. This disadvantages new and postgraduate students. Research postgraduate students are more likely to live outside of the town and to pay higher rent than undergraduates.
Among the report’s suggestions was to expand University halls of residence to accommodate another 200 people. This would reduce the numbers of undergraduates in the already crowded private renting market. To accommodate postgraduates and staff, it further proposes the creation of 400 to 500 mid-market rental units in and around St Andrews over the next five years.
Professor Duncan Maclennan, who led the research, concluded: “Most students and staff at the University of St Andrews find adequate, if often expensive, housing. Finding and paying for housing is however a substantial problem for 10 to 15% of the University based population.
“And for poorer renters, with the majority of local renters having lower resource levels available than staff and students, the story of the last decade has been growing displacement into poorer homes and remoter locations.
“Present housing and social security reform policies will only make this pattern worse if old policy thinking remains in place.
“But the optimistic gift of potential growth for the towns, indeed the wider region’s main enterprise, can be fulfilled without social and environmental damage to locals and the locality if new institutions are evolved to jointly plan to shape growth and capture its gains.
“The University and the town have evolved together over 600 years. Proud of their past, they must make a major leap forward now to capture a better, communal future.”
Councillor David Ross, Fife Council’s executive spokesperson for housing, communities and local services, said: “This is important research in helping us understand the inter-relationship between the University of St Andrews and its wider community. Fife’s Local Housing Strategy has highlighted the unique and pressured position of the St Andrews housing market, recognising it as a priority area for new affordable homes.
“Fife Council has taken steps to ensure that all new development makes a contribution to the affordable housing requirement in the community, we have been working with local housing providers to deliver new homes in the wider St Andrews area and sales of Council homes have been restricted to preserve existing levels of Council housing.
“I am particularly aware of local concerns about the growth of HMOs in the town centre and recognise that this is a sensitive issue.
“We look forward to working with the University and other stakeholders in the months ahead to deliver practical solutions to the issues raised within the report, addressing the combined housing needs of the University and St Andrews’ residents.”