Albany residents express anger about redevelopment plans

The Director of Residential and Business Services reportedly called Albany Park a "ghetto."

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Photo: University of St Andrews

The closure of Andrew Melville Hall and staggered closures in Albany Park are leaving many St Andrews students uncertain of their future at the University.

Andrew Melville Hall will close for renovation at the end of this semester. The University’s website, which lists housing options for the 2017-18 academic year, confirmed that the residence hall will not be available while its infrastructure and facilities are being updated.

The University is also moving forward with plans to redevelop Albany Park by renovating the existing accommodation and adding facilities for 900 additional residents. The project is expected to cost £70 million and be completed by late 2019, with construction beginning sometime in 2018. Albany Park will reportedly be closed during the renovation.

Most University housing will cost between £5,500 and £6,500 in the upcoming year. En-suite catered residences, such as David Russell Apartments and Agnes Blackadder Hall, can cost up to £8,200 for two semesters.

Albany Park is currently the least expensive University accommodation and is priced at £3,840 per year. The price difference between Albany Park and the next closest option, Andrew Melville Hall, is £1,800.

Students currently living in Albany Park have expressed grievances with the University’s failure to plan for a significant increase in the number of low-cost units within the new complex.

“[The University] said that when they rebuild Albany they’re going to have 900 bedrooms and 300 of them are going to be in the lower quartile of prices, which is the amount Albany has now. […] It’s not really changing anything,” Albany Park Senior Student Linsey Welshman said.

The fourth year has been working with members of the Residential and Business Services (RBS) team to ensure a student perspective is considered in plans for the Albany redevelopment.

The University has assured that both Ms Welshman and next term’s senior student will be and next term’s all stages of planning.

However, Ms Welshman feels this sentiment is not genuine.

“It does kind of feel like they’re just saying that to pacify us and make us feel involved,” she said, “because clearly nothing we’ve said has really been taken on board.”

Students have attended multiple planning meetings to provide input, and last December Ms Welshman organised a question and answer session with RBS staff to help ease students’ minds.

Ms Welshman emphasised the urgency of the issue, saying that many residents of Albany Park would not be financially able to attend St Andrews if they were placed in more expensive housing.

She added, “I think people are concerned about just having to go to another university because they can’t afford to live here.”

Photo: University of St Andrews

Alice Duffy, a three-year resident of Albany Park, echoed Ms Welshman’s sentiments.

“I definitely do not think enough is being done to keep accommodation affordable,” she said.

Ms Duffy and other students in similar situations regard Albany Park as their only viable option for housing in St Andrews. Many students interviewed said the costs of private accommodation and other University halls would put an unreasonable burden on them and their families.

“Obviously the situation of private housing in the town is a total mess and hugely unfair and competitive, which makes it even more imperative that the University tries to provide affordable housing for its students,” Ms Duffy said.

One key contention is the University’s choice to sacrifice building basic units in favor of constructing more medium- to high-price accommodation as part of the 900-bed addition.

According to Ms Welshman, both residents and student representatives have told RBS staff about their desire for low-cost, basic housing without expensive amenities such as en-suite bathrooms and heated floors.

Yet even after multiple conversations, these comments received little attention.

Ms Welshman recounted her experience attending an initial planning meeting, where she felt her perspective was not being properly utilised.

University staff in the meeting reportedly ignored requests for “basic and affordable” accommodation and repeatedly proposed larger showers and upgraded social spaces.

Ms Welshman and her peers were told that en-suite bathrooms would allow the University to rent out the facilities to tourists during the summer, when students are away.

She said, “It just feels like it’s really been run as a business rather than as a university.”

Ms Duffy agreed, saying, “It’s insulting that they value making a profit over the welfare of their students.”

A University spokesperson addressed this concern in an email statement, reiterating that Albany Park will retain “a proportion of lower quartile rents as it currently provides now,” as well as stressing the recently increased availability of bursaries to help make all University accommodation more affordable.

Ms Welshman explained that the solution is more complex than simply applying for University aid. Students must accept their position at St Andrews and sign a contract for accommodation before applying for, and receiving, a bursary.

Those that do not have a guaranteed bursary may not be able to accept their place at the University due to fears of expensive housing. Thus, students rely on being able to obtain a room in Albany Park.

Henry Leather is a second year who lives in Albany Park out of necessity. Even with more bursaries available, he does not qualify for one because both of his parents earn above the limit set by St Andrews.

“I would not have been able to afford to come to this uni if not for Albany,” Mr Leather said.

While University Principal Professor Sally Mapstone has continually listed widening access for disadvantaged students as a top priority, Ms Duffy still feels that the University is not doing nearly enough.

She added, “It genuinely feels like students from lower income backgrounds are being pushed out of St Andrews by the university institution itself.”

During the December forum organized by Ms Welshman, the University’s director of Residential and Business Services, Ben Stuart, allegedly stated that the motivation for including more expensive housing in the new development was to “avoid another ghetto like Albany.”

Ms Welshman, who is also a four- year resident of Albany Park, said that others seemed to take offense at the comment. She was not surprised, as she had heard the phrase used by University staff at the initial planning meeting.

A University spokesperson addressed the comment, saying “Mr Stuart does not agree that Albany can ever be described credibly in such a way.

“What he and the University have repeatedly said and stand by, however, is that we would want to avoid anywhere being thought of as a ghetto, which is why the significant redevelopment and accommodation bursary structure, in which resource follows students across our full range of accommodation, was an important and inclusive step as we seek to expand and improve student accommodation across St Andrews.”

All three residents said that they believe the University has not done enough to reassure and inform students affected by the redevelopment.

Ms Welshman told The Saint that RBS attended a senior student meeting and planned a public Q&A session only at the insistence of her and the senior student from Andrew Melville Hall.

As for the future, Ms Welshman has asked for president of the Students’ Association, Charlotte Andrew, to speak to concerned students in the coming weeks, hoping that she will be able to provide new answers and assistance.

Ms Welshman also expressed little confidence in the University’s treatment of the issue going forward.

“They do seem more prepared to invite us along to things, but I don’t know how much of that is serious.”

Joseph Cassidy contributed to this article

4 COMMENTS

  1. FYI there’s another mistake in the graphic, besides the obvious fact that Albany Park isn’t catered and en-suite. A shared room at Andrew Melville doesn’t cost the same as a single (£5640) like it says – the diagram clearly shows this anyway, since the ‘shared’ part is pointing to about the £5000 mark. Get this stuff sorted.

  2. Accommodation is spelt wrong in the picture, needs another ‘m’. As is ‘Gannochy House’, which is spelt ‘Gannocy’ in the picture. The whole picture is riddled with errors, to be honest.

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