Conservative Councillor for the East Neuk ward, Linda Holt, has apologised for asserting that the impact of students on the town was akin to social cleansing.
The apology comes following a strongly worded letter in the Courier written by University of St Andrews Director of Communications Niall Scott.
Mr Scott wrote, “Social cleansing is defined as “class-based killing that consists of elimination of members of society considered “undesirable,” including but not limited to the homeless, criminals, street children, the elderly, sex workers and sexual minorities.
“Councillor Holt should of course unreservedly withdraw her deeply offensive and inappropriate remark, but there is as yet no sign of the Tory councillor doing so.”
Speaking to The Saint, Ms Holt said, “I’m happy to accept the term is inappropriate and apologise for any offence caused – I didn’t and don’t want to upset people, but I do want to draw attention to the fact that the continuing displacement of families and working people by a transient population of students has had significant social impacts in St Andrews, and that some people feel these have been deleterious.”
In response, a spokesperson for the University of St Andrews said, “We are glad that Councillor Holt has recognised that this this is an inappropriate term and has apologised, albeit belatedly.”
Previously, in the comments section of The Saint’s website, Cllr Holt had stood firmly by her ‘social cleansing’ comments when replying to Association President Lewis Wood.
“I stand by my comment that the displacement of permanent residents – including families, children and people who work locally – with a shifting, temporary and primarily part-time population of students could be regarded as a kind of social cleansing.
“Social cleansing is what it can seem like to some for whom studentification means they cannot, or no longer want to, live in St Andrews.”
Upon hearing the news that Ms Holt had withdrawn her assertion, Lewis Wood told The Saint, “I’m very glad to hear Linda Holt’s apology; it is easy to misuse language accidentally, but her defence since of the term “social cleansing” has been inappropriate, and I’m happy that she has reconsidered the wider implications of the phrase.
“I would take the opportunity to ask, yet again, how is the HMO ban is going to make the situation better for anyone in St Andrews? The point stands that, where the purchasing power of two students remains higher than that of an average young family, they will continue to occupy properties throughout St Andrews, and that by removing viable beds by capping the number of licenses available property prices will only continue to increase, for both students and locals alike.”
Both Cllr Holt and Mr Wood called for greater cooperation between Fife Council and the University.
Cllr Holt said, “A long time ago the University had a serious forum for liaison with the local community and Fife Council, and I will be calling at Fife Council for something like that to be recreated so everyone can work together for the good of everyone in St Andrews and the surrounding area.”
Mr Wood affirmed the sentiment, asserting, “As I have written on the ‘No to HMO Ban’ campaign page: ‘My goal has, and always will be, a discussion that thinks more creatively about solutions that are in the interests of both parties, and if this cannot be achieved, a solution that doesn’t come as a victory to one ‘group’ at the expense of another’. This has been a frequently repeated ideal that has been consistently ignored by Fife Council.”
In a previous letter to the Courier, Ms Holt also asserted that the prominence of HMOs was turning the town into “an exclusive student ghetto”.