The Fife Park houses will be demolished this summer and replaced with modernised blocks of flats, set to open in time for the 2015-2016 academic year.
But concerns have been raised about the amount of consultation and communication from the University about what type of accommodation will replace the residences, and there are fears that this could cause problems for students looking for low-cost housing.
The news follows several years of uncertainty about the state of Fife Park. The houses are over 40 years old and Fife Council told the University last year that they must be refurbished in order to meet the requirements for a new Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence after 2014.
Currently, each house has six bedrooms, a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom. The Council’s rules state that in order to gain an HMO licence “there shall be one water closet for every five persons living in the premises”, however. A temporary solution was found for this academic year by locking and not using one of the bedrooms in each house, but the University admitted at the time that there was still a need for the accommodation to be “upgraded and replaced”.
The University previously held a consultation into the redevelopment of Fife Park in 2007 but the project was put on hold because of a lack of funding. With the HMO licence set to expire this year, however, a permanent solution was needed. The University decided that upgrading the existing residences was not the most cost-effective option and will now continue with the original redevelopment plans, approved by Fife Council in 2008.
The plans show that 135 of the new rooms will be in flats with shared bathroom facilities, while a further 189 will be single, en-suite rooms in a similar style to DRA and Fife Park Apartments. A University spokesperson told The Saint that the plans may change but there will be a mix of standard and en- suite accommodation.
The housing will be built by private contractors rather than by the University directly, a first for St Andrews. A spokesperson explained: “Planning permission is in place and we are currently evaluating tenders for the construction of the new accommodation. It is important to stress that the tender process is not yet complete. Subject to the selection of an acceptable tender, we expect work to begin in June this year with the project complete and rooms ready for student occupation by September 2015.
“This is a departure for the University in as much as the residence will be built by a private contractor who will bear the construction costs. The University will however allocate places, collect rents, manage the residence and provide wardennial support as is the case across our residences. This method of funding new accommodation will allow the University to focus its capital investment on teaching and research.”
Residents in Fife Park are currently charged the lowest rent of all the University residences and there are worries that the removal of low-cost accommodation will particularly impact students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A University spokesperson said rents for 2015 have not been agreed yet, but the standard accommodation will be cheaper than the en- suite accommodation available in DRA and FPA. Roger Smith, the University’s director of residential and business services, said it will still be higher than the current Fife Park rate, however.
Zoe Ashwood, a current Fife Park resident, expressed her concerns about the loss of the cheaper housing: “Coming from a background where approximately a third of my peers at high school came from some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Scotland, I am deeply concerned about the impact that the destruction of this accommodation will have on students from such backgrounds applying and attending our University.”
The decision on what type of accommodation should be offered at the redeveloped site was made after student consultation in 2007. At the time there were concerns about how the loss of this low-cost accommodation would impact students but the project was given the go-ahead. There has been no further surveying of student opinion since that time, despite increasing pressures on student finances in recent years.
Chloe Hill, president of the Students’ Association, said: “I’m really pleased that the University has a plan and a timetable for the Fife Park site, and will soon have an increased amount of student accommodation. My concern is that they are using information from a student consultation which took place in 2007, and the financial situation for students has changed considerably since then, what with the increasing cost of tuition fees, accommodation and utilities.”
Most Fife Park residents are undergraduates with contracts that are due to terminate at the end of the year, who will not be affected. Postgraduate students, who remain in St Andrews during the summer months, will have to be moved to make way for the new development from the end of May. These students have been offered: a room in Fife Park Apartments at no extra charge; a room in Albany Park in a six-person house at no extra charge (including the provision of storage boxes and the cost of a taxi to transport them to Albany); or a release from their contract from 31 May should they prefer to find alternative accommodation.
The temporary loss of Fife Park’s 162 beds may also cause problems for the next academic year. University residences have been increasingly oversubscribed in recent years and the University has struggled to provide places for returning students while also guaranteeing accommodation for all first years. The University has stressed that there are contingency plans in place – though it has not said what they are – and says the situation is being “closely monitored”. When the project is completed, the capacity of Fife Park will be increased by 115 beds.
In addition, the news about the redevelopment has left some students confused about their options for accommodation next year. They feel there has been a lack of communication from the University, which only informed them about the redevelopment in January.
Chloe Richards, a current Fife Park resident, had hoped to stay in her house next year but is now trying to make alternative arrangements following the announcement. She said: “They didn’t really seem to give much option for returning undergraduates. I can understand they are concentrating on postgraduates now but there is a considerable number of people who might have re-applied.
“My options are severely limited. I’m looking at having to go back into Mcintosh or something, which eats my entire budget. I wish we’d had a bit more information about our options for next year.”
Another Fife Park resident, Lauren Holmes, said that her housemate may have to move to Dundee is she is unable to get a room in the other self-catered standard hall, Albany Park.
Both Ms Richards and Ms Holmes felt that the University should have let residents know about the plans earlier in the year in order to give them sufficient time to make alternative arrangements.
In response to the criticism, the University said it is “committed to open communication and to keeping students informed of developments as this project goes ahead. In the past an effective means of communicating and exchanging information has been through open fora with our residents, and the first of these was held on Monday 27 January. The director of residential and business services will be pleased to respond to any queries relating to the proposed project, while emphasising that it is still at an early stage in its definition and has yet to be formally approved. Any queries should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The University, with the help of Ms Hill, the Association president, has introduced new bursaries. This means that more funding will be available for rooms across the University and will give students more choice about where to live.
The University is still in the process of clarifying how the new scheme will work, however, further adding to the confusion.
A spokesperson said: “As a result of a persuasive case made the president of the Students’ Association, progressively over the next three years there will be a transfer of subsidy from designated residences such as Fife Park and Albany Park to an increased personal accommodation bursary scheme available to all students experiencing financial hardship and wishing to reside in University accommodation.
“This will permit our students full mobility within the residential system, rather than being restricted to specific residences. The first year of implementation is academic year 2014/2015.”
Click here to view the original plans for the Fife Park redevelopment.