SA President hits out at “shameful” Fife Councillors over HMO motion

Association President Lewis Wood took to Twitter to advocate his frustration as he felt student interests were not being respected.

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Photo: Mika Schemling

Yesterday, a motion was passed by the NE Fife Area Committee to recommend to the deciding committee, that a threshold be placed on the number of HMOs (Housing in Multiple Occupancy) in St Andrews.

The motion recommended that the number of HMOs as currently stands in St Andrews remains the same.

The threshold would be set at the current percentage of existing HMO properties in the respective three zones (Zone 1 – Central Conservation Area 17%, Zone 2 – East 5%, and Zone 3 – West 3%).

Throughout the meeting, at which the Association President Lewis Wood had furthermore not been allowed to speak at, he took to Twitter to advocate his frustration.

Mr Wood said that the meeting was “shameful”, as he felt that student opinions were being neglected. He further asserted that not all councillors were responsible, nonetheless they accounted for a “vast majority”.

house in multiple occupation is a property rented out by at least three people who are not from one ‘household’, for example a family, but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen.

Thus, an HMO license is required by landlords in order to let to the majority of students in private accommodation.

In an open letter to students following the vote, Mr Wood said, “As student number increase from 9,000 to 10,000 over the next few years, increased pressure on the portfolio of accommodation in St Andrews is inevitable.”

“The decision taken [yesterday] was not taken in a communal spirit. It was a decision that took into account the desires of ‘local’ people only, and not the asks of a student body struggling with an expensive and poor-quality private accommodation sector.”

He continued, “The HMO moratorium has not worked to achieve the harmonious or balanced community that it was imposed to create. It has done nothing to change the composition of the town, and instead, has only exacerbated accommodation issues for students.

“I have frequently stated that I would welcome legislation that would be nuanced and comprehensive enough to address the needs of both students and local residents, and have consistently striven for this discourse.”

no shortage of university accommodation

Brian Thomson, St Andrews Labour councillor and main proposer of the motion said that there was “no shortage” of University accommodation for students.

An amendment to the motion was put forward by Liberal Democrat Councillor for St Andrews, Jane Ann Liston, which would have set a threshold of 22% in Zone 1, 6% in Zone 2 and 4% in Zone 3, thereby providing more licences in the town centre. However, this amendment only received the backing of Conservative councillor Dominic Nolan, who seconded the amendment and the SNP councillor in St Andrews, Ann Verner.

Shameful

Of yesterday’s decision, Cllr Nolan said “I am disappointed at the decision to impose a threshold on HMO properties at its current level. Some level of over provision policy is needed to respect all sections of our community but I believe this policy will place further pressure on the town’s housing stock by encouraging landlords to let out an increasing number of two-bed properties and so leave less homes available to a permanent population.”

He continued, “I believe a level of flexibility in HMO provision and an increased threshold would have been more appropriate to make full use of the existing housing stock which is already occupied by students. This will also see rents remain at excessive levels where landlords must collect the same amount of rent from a house which does not have the intended the number of occupants.

“I believe it is also worth noting that 3 of the 4 St Andrews Councillors saw that the potential for a slight increase in HMO numbers was appropriate and that it was largely out of town Councillors who have chosen to implement this policy.”

lack of regard for students

Speaking on behalf of the Rector’s Committee, current Rector’s Assessor Camilla Duke also expressed her disappointment at the council’s decision, saying “we are extremely disappointed to see Fife Council’s lack of regard for the student population, which makes up a significant portion of this town. The HMO cap prevents many students from finding affordable housing, which is an issue we are deeply invested in.

“The Rector’s Committee will be exploring all avenues to open up a conversation between the university, students, and the local Councillors. Access to quality, affordable housing is imperative to the student experience at St Andrews and we will be doing everything in our power to ensure equal access to housing for all students.”

Mr Wood also urged students to contact their local councillors and express their opinions, as well as to sign a petition to remove the HMO moratorium.

 

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. It is wrong to imply that Lewis Wood was denied the opportunity to speak. He could have presented a deputation as St Andrews residents did if he had taken the trouble to acquaint himself with Council procedures.

    • Hi Linda,

      Upon asking in advance I was told that only one group is allowed to make a deputation at any one event, and therefore would not be allowed to speak. I was also initially told that the meeting was private, and when I was eventually told one week before that it would be publicly viewable I was also told that it was already too late to ask to speak. I consider that a considerable shifting of the goalpost.

      Lastly, I asked the convenor if I had a right to reply, given that I was referenced multiple times, and presenters quoted my letters and petitions, passionately criticising them, but I was told no.

      None of this sounds very democratic to me, especially on such a political and multifaceted issue.

      Have you seen fit to apologise for your “social cleansing” comment?

      Lewis

  2. Hi Lewis,
    Had you taken the trouble to look up paragraph 6 in Fife Council’s Standing Orders (easily obtainable online), you could have
    a. applied to make a deputation in good time and before the St Andrews residents, or otherwise argue that exceptional circumstances obtained so two deputations should be allowed (if the Convenor still refused, you could have asked the St Andrews ward members to argue your case with him)
    b. applied to present a statement lasting 5 minutes (essentially a deputation from one person but allowed in addition to a deputation)
    c. applied to present your petition
    There must have been some misunderstanding about what meeting was being spoken about as all Council and Committee meetings are public – which again is made clear in the Standing Orders.
    No member of the public has a “right of reply” at any Council meetings – the opportunities for interventions by members of the public are laid out in the Standing Orders (as above), and Fife’s arrangements are unexceptional among Scottish councils. Such arrangements are deemed on the whole to be necessary for the orderly and efficient running of Council business.
    I don’t see an obvious democratic deficit in what you describe as it is the responsibility of citizens to acquaint themselves with democratically agreed procedures.
    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. I think a St Andrews academic called it studentification. It seems to me to be undeniable that the social profile of St Andrews has altered markedly over the last 30 years, and that is largely due to the rise in student numbers. 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.

    • Dear Linda,

      I appreciate your response.

      Here is the email that I sent to the Committee Administrator:

      “I’m emailing on the advice of Jane Ann Liston, who has just recently informed me that CSARA will be permitted to send a delegation to a meeting on May 9th, at which councillors will discuss the future of the HMO ban in St Andrews. I was emailing to ask if the same allowance could be made for the Students’ Association, to ensure equal and proper representation.

      Apologies that this email comes so close to the date itself – I wasn’t aware that such a representation was even possible, and would’ve emailed much sooner had I known this to be the case.”

      The response that I received informed me that I would not be allowed to speak, but that “members of the St Andrews Students’ Association are welcome to be present in the public gallery to hear the debate.” only. It is also important for me to make clear that I was allowed to operate under the belief that the meeting would be private until I was informed otherwise the week before, at which point it was too late to be granted speaking rights.

      One would hope that the committee administrator, upon hearing my plea for “equal and proper representation”, would direct me to the possibilities for representation, as you have just done. This is consistent with past community interactions during which I have been prevented from speaking upon arbitrary grounds; an example of this is the St Andrews community council with the local councillors, at which my speaking rights were withdrawn when I challenged the council’s stance on the HMO ban. The St Andrews councillors were certainly aware of both my petition and my desire to speak.

      Not only did this administrator prevent us from speaking, but upon welcoming us at the beginning, they reiterated that we were not allowed to engage in any way, as did the Convenor.

      Councillors are public representatives. Your job is to facilitate public opinion and make decisions based upon it. To suggest that my failure to navigate your standing orders removes the right to representation is a ridiculous accusation.

      I would like to also call attention to the fact that the decision you have made and loudly advocated for will continue to both worsen the living conditions of students, and raise the cost of rent for locals and students alike. This decision was made despite the results of an unbiased third-party report commissioned by Fife Council that clearly concluded that the moratorium has not had the desired effect, and has instead made the situation worse for both ‘locals’ and students. The results of this report have been completely disregarded, seemingly because they contradict with the harmful action that local councillors wish to continue to take.

      I would like to also make clear that you are not a St Andrews councillor, and you represent no-one that this ban will impact in St Andrews, ‘local’ or student alike.

      Finally, to state that the residency of students in St Andrews is akin to “social cleansing of permanent residents” is at best ignorant, and at worst disgraceful. It shows a complete ignorance and lack of respect for the student residents of this town who see themselves as one with the community, and consider the diverse nature of the town to be one of the things that makes St Andrews so special. “Social cleansing” is a completely inappropriate term which has very clear fascist connotations, the impact of which cannot be underestimated, and I think you owe an apology to the students of St Andrews for your vocabulary.

      You’re welcome to email me (president@st-andrews.ac.uk), or arrange to come by the Students’ Association if you’d like to discuss this further, as I do not believe that any progress will be made in the comments section of a student newspaper.

      All best,

      Lewis

    • Dear Ms Holt,

      Your use of the phrase ‘social cleansing’ is unnecessarily provocative and it’s use seems specifically designed to cast a bad light on students living in and around St. Andrews. As a councillor you should be considering the needs and rights of all residents.

      You may be right that the expansion of the University has put undue pressure on the permanent population. But that is not the fault of the student body; none of whom are involved in the decisions relating to it and all of whom just want a safe and affordable place to live when studying at one of the best Universities in the world. The University is one of the greatest assets the town has, and despite your insinuations many students live in this town all year round; working locally, building their families, making this town there home.

      I do not know the original context of your use of the phrase ‘social cleansing’ but your use of it in your previous comment, with all of the negative connotations associated with the phrase, is unfair and maybe you should rethink your phrasing in the future.

      Sincerely,

      A proud and full-time St. Andrews resident, and a student…

  3. I’m a student at St Andrews. I’m also a full-time resident, have volunteered for local charities, and worked for local businesses. I am friends with my (mostly elderly) neighbours. Yet I am not considered a resident of this town in the same manner that a non-student is.

    I’m sick of this us vs them mentality – and your Katie Hopkins-esque ‘social cleansing’ comment does nothing to foster a good sense of community, inclusion, and fairness.

  4. I am an hmo landlord and proud to be so .
    I look after my tenants and my properties extremely well as do many many other landlords I know .
    I have had frequent and libelous comments and criticisms directed at myself and my husband from Csara .
    Csara should not have spoken at this meeting . It is not a registered or affiliated organization . It is one person with a computer and letterhead . It does not represent anyone .

    I would like to echo another comment left earlier . Replace the word hmo with Syrian refugees OR retired persons over the age of 65 .
    How would it look if those groups were told where to live and by which proportion they should live . Suppose we said oh there’s enough retirement homes now you should live there .
    Your all correct . The fife councillors don’t care about the students by this vote .
    At the end of the day the final say is with housing services . Thank goodness they are represented by a very smart lawyer . She will set this straight . There’s no way this policy is remotely legal . Judicial review will be pending .

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