Student representatives and councillors met in Glenrothes on 30 August to discuss HMO (houses in multiple occupation) policy in St Andrews, as the Community and Housing Services (CHS) Committee discussed options for a Fife-wide licensing policy for the HMOs.

Paloma Paige, President of the Students’ Association, presented her views to the committee on behalf of students and was allowed to speak and take questions.

Ms Paige argued that, when the St Andrews Community Council voted to support the HMO moratorium in April, no student representatives were in favour of the position.

Additionally, she presented that when the North East Fife Area (NEFA) Committee voted on whether thresholds be introduced at the current levels across St Andrews, only one Fife Councillor voted in favour.

Thus, she told The Saint that when the CHS Committee deferred to the NEFA Committee’s recommendation, which represented a lack of St Andrews support, “this Committee was in effect ignoring not only the voice of students living in St Andrews (they make up over half the town’s population), but also ignoring the lack of consensus among the St Andrews councillors who arguably understand the St Andrews housing crisis the best.”

The Glenrothes meeting saw a final consensus to impose a threshold policy, but to postpone a decision on finer details until the next meeting on 14 February 2019 so more evidence could be reviewed.

Councillor Jane Ann Liston, a St Andrews Liberal Democrat, expressed her fears for the St Andrews housing crisis after the meeting. She argued that the proposed restrictions on new HMOs will limit the amount of homes entering the housing market, while simultaneously worsensing town-and-gown relations.

Cllr Liston said, “A cruel trick is being played upon those with low and middle incomes desperately seeking accommodation in St Andrews by suggesting that this will free up affordable properties for them.”

She continued, “Despite the proposal to allow for, at most, a 3 per cent increase in HMOs, simple arithmetic shows that if houses that could be occupied by 3 or 4 students only contain 2, then more houses, not fewer, will be occupied by students and as such unavailable to the mainstream housing market.”

Speaking about the meeting, she said, “Reported occurrences of locked bedroom doors, resulting in only 2 students occupying a house which could safely accommodate more were dismissed as ‘anecdotal’ while a single instance of a family of 6 moving into one of the more expensive town streets was cited as evidence that the 7-year moratorium on new HMOs in the town centre was a success and should be extended.”

The councillor also quoted statistics recently reported by the National Records of Scotland, which indicated that 636 homes in St Andrews, or 10.5 per cent of the town’s total housing stock, are categorised as “empty”, a figure which rises to 20 per cent in the town’s centre.

Cllr Listion argued that it is a proportion “likely to increase should the number of HMOs be capped.”

She added, “Properties lying empty could confirm that many of the houses in the town centre are simply not attractive for groups other than students, because in general, who else would want to live in a flat above a pub, only accessible by two or three flights of stairs, by a busy road with neither garden nor off-street parking?”

Paloma Paige sees the decision as evidence that “the Committee was under-informed as to the particular housing scene in St Andrews,” and she plans to work to provide more evidence to the Committee on the disadvantages of the HMO ban.

Echoing Cllr Liston’s concerns, Ms Paige said, “Ahead February’s meeting, I will be working to gather evidence of locked bedrooms, i.e. wasted beds, that is too often dismissed as being purely anecdotal and yet illustrates a very real and negative consequence of the HMO moratorium in the town centre.

“I will be seeking collaborations with the University and colleagues to collate evidence which highlights the factors causing more detriment to the St Andrews housing market than a rise in HMOs.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Liston voiced her frustrations on the worsening town-and-gown relations, noting that three of the four St Andrews councillors voted to oppose an effective ban on new HMOs in the town.

She also said, “Students are being blamed for housing pressures, ignoring other contributory factors. It is very sad that, at a time when these young people are flocking eagerly back to the town, rather than rolling out a welcome mat, we might as well put up a sign saying ‘Go away.’”

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