Forty years later, the Fife Park houses are finally to be put out of their misery. The announcement has been a long time coming: they would have been replaced in 2008, had the project not run out of money. But ever since the University resorted last year to locking every sixth door to ward off the Council’s HMO inspectors, it was clear the houses’ days were numbered.
The news is broadly welcome. The houses are in clear need of redevelopment and the University is right to make a move while it has the opportunity: there won’t always be a private contractor willing to bear the costs of construction. But some questions remain.
Most pressing is the loss of Fife Park’s 162 beds during the next academic year. The University struggles every year with guaranteeing accommodation to first year students while also accepting returning ones, and this extra squeeze will not help. The University has not specified its contingency plans but this newspaper hopes it will opt to temporarily take fewer new students, rather than squeeze even more returners out of halls – where they make invaluable contributions to community spirit and lend their knowledge to the hall committees – and make the already saturated private rental market even more competitive.
The University must also confirm that the reduced number of low-cost places next year will be made up for by the revamped bursary scheme. This will certainly be true in the long run – the bursaries are being phased in over three years – but the loss of Fife Park must not be allowed to cause a short- fall in the interim.
Some Fife Park residents have raised concerns about a lack of communication. But this should not be a major problem provided the University clearly presents residents with their options for next year, including where to apply for a low-cost place to live.
Finally, the University has not made clear what rent it will charge once the redevelopment is completed, nor whether this will be influenced by the need to somehow pay the contractor for the building work. The redevelopment plans are based on a consultation carried out in 2007 but the nature of student finances has changed considerably since then, and this must be taken into account.