#ExeterBoard discusses cycling in the city

In the absence of Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, I chaired last night’s meeting of Exeter Board.

The focus of the meeting was Cycling in the City and it was gratifying to see a full public gallery for the meeting .

exeter-board

Starting off the discussion was a preamble and question from Graham Heysett.

Preamble: I note from the DCC Cabinet meeting of 8th June 2016 that Councillors resolved that Officers be authorised to continue working on the development of the Exeter Cycle Network, giving priority to Routes E3 (between Redhayes Bridge and the City Centre)and E4 (between Redhayes Bridge and the University of Exeter Streatham Campus). I also note from items 12 and 5 of the report of the Head of Planning, Transportation and Environment to Cabinet (PTE/16/27) that ‘Progression of scheme development throughout financial year 2016/17 is required to ensure construction plans are available when funding becomes available for delivery. The final E3

and E4 cycle routes will be presented to Cabinet prior to construction.’ and ‘A Growth Deal 3 Expression of Interest has been submitted to the LEP for £3.4M of funding for implementation of the cycle routes, available over the period 2017/18 to 2019/20. £1.65M S106 developer contributions have been secured for walking and cycling improvements and are expected to provide the required match funding.’

Question: Can we be confident that development is taking place for the whole length of the routes E3 and E4, that Progression of scheme development through financial year 2016/17 was on track to ensure construction plans are available when funding becomes available, and that Growth Deal 3 funding available for the period 2017/18 to 2019/20 has been secured from the LEP for implementation of the cycle routes?

The response to the question  was given as part of the wider discussion on cycling provision as set out below.

Speaking on the above theme were: Jamie Hulland : Transportation, Planning and Road Safety Manager, Devon County Council

Mike Walton : Exeter Cycling Campaign

Jemma Hodgins : Exeter City Futures

Devon County Council Cycling Strategy : Jamie Hulland

Jamie Hulland outlined the County Council’s current and future proposals for cycling in the City and its ambitions for creating a primary and secondary network of high quality routes and shared cycle/pedestrian paths, subject to available funds. Although not having benefited from Government funding through the Cycling Ambitions Cities Programme such as Oxford and Cambridge, nor through the recent National Parks “Granite and Gears” programme for rural strategic cycle routes serving Dartmoor, Exeter compared well in national terms in its commitment to improved cycle provision across the City.

Funding for future initiatives would come from Growth Deal 3 of £3.4 million topped up to £5.4 million from other County Council funding streams for the period to 2019/20 and the Department of Transport’s Access Fund provision of £1.5 million funding over the next three years towards Devon’s Walking and Cycling Strategy to Prosperity scheme which would also be backed by £60,000 from the County Council. The latter focused on key areas of housing and employment growth in Exeter to change behaviour and promote more creative travel to work and places of education. The project would also support a further extension to the electric bike hire scheme from on-street docking stations in Exeter and deliver annual walking and cycling challenges.

He thanked the Exeter Cycling Campaign for their commitment to and ideas for the network and, referring to the question of Graham Heysett in respect of routes E3 and E4, advised that part of the rationale for the latter was to improve access to the City for cyclists from the growth areas of Newcourt and Monkerton from the Redhayes Bridge/M5 area. Much of the £100,000 commitment in this financial year would focus on the eastern part of the route with subsequent work to occur along Prince Charles Road and Union Road. The E3 route was not as high a priority and would focus on improving linkages from Heavitree and Whipton Barton into the City Centre. He also reported that, both the County Council and City Council, were signatories to the Exeter Cycling Charter.

He responded as follows to Members’ queries:-

  • other than the London Design Guide, there were no official sanctioned Department of Transport planning guidance and use was therefore made of best practise. The City Council’c Principal Project Manager (Infrastructure Delivery) advised that the City Council’s Sustainable Transport Supplementary Planning Guidance assisted the planning process;
  • although demand on CIL contributions was oversubscribed, significant sums were being identified for cycle schemes;
  • shared cycle/pedestrian paths could offer low cost solutions in areas such as Whipton and Heavitree, for example linking Hanover Road and Ladysmith Road through Higher Cemetery could be a possible scheme; and
  • 80%/90% of the road network was gritted but logistics and funding considerations prevented extending this to cycle paths.

Responding to Members’ queries, Joel Smith, the University of Exeter’s Sustainable Travel Co-ordinator, confirmed that the University worked closely with the County and City Councils to improve cycling facilities and, through its Sustainable Transport Plan, was looking at a range of measures to improve cycling provision, both into and on the University campus, with a current estimate of 14% of students and 14% of staff cycling to the campus. Measures being taken included:-

  • work place support scheme;
  • adult confidence cycling sessions;
  • participation in Ride to Work week;
  • keen to extend the CoBike/Electric bike usage across the City and looking at use of land at St David’s Station and on the St Luke’s campus for this purpose as well as introducing electric bikes on the main campus;
  • external consultants to report back on cycle parking provision on the Streatham Campus to feed into the University’s Campus Environment Management Group with Streatham Road seen as a potential area for cycle parking as part of a two tier plan for staff and students to park along this road and access the main site by foot; and
  • student-led project on understanding car use by students.

He confirmed that the University was seeking to action a number of recommendations arising from the presentation of its Sustainable Transport Plan 2016-20 at the November meeting of the County Council’s Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders Committee and undertook to pursue the request for the wider circulation of the above mentioned reports. Referring to a Member’s suggestion that the University should commit to requiring all students to sign up to a no car policy, he acknowledged that student use of cars in the City was a significant issue and referred to a forthcoming meeting on 3 February with local Members on student issues. He noted the comments of a Member in respect of the recent planning applications for purpose built student accommodation in the City, the significant number of cycle parking provision associated with some of these and the apparent lack of communication between the individual developers and the University on the availability of parking spaces on campus and possible developer contribution to such provision.

Jamie Hulland responded further to issues raised:-

  • the 2021 census would further update car usage in Exeter, the current estimate being that some 50% of those working in the City came from outside Exeter but that the City was performing well in comparison with some cities, benefitting in particular from a comprehensive rail network;
  • reducing bus lanes, as was being trialled in Liverpool, to help increase cycle paths, was a radical but unsuitable solution with significant numbers using buses and with the Exeter and District Bus Users Group being a strong pressure group/advocate;
  • responding to the suggestion of advance public alerts to increases in pollution levels, he advised that air quality had improved with better vehicle technology and certain traffic management measures; and
  • opportunities to investigate the potential for additional cycle parking provision on ad hoc, vacant plots of land, both in the City Centre and in residential areas, should be pursued.

Graham Hysett, as a Sustrans Board Member and cycling instructor, responded to the issues raised. He stated that Exeter had been the First Cycle Demonstration City and that it was important to build on the impetus this status had brought, not to slip behind other Cities and to be ambitious with future plans, taking Danish and Dutch Cities as exemplars of imaginative solutions. He suggested that further road improvements such as the Bridge Road scheme, whilst initially reducing travel time, would ultimately witness similar, if not increased, congestion. This scheme, whilst seeking to improve links between the north and south west of the City would feel the impact of the new housing developments to be brought forward for the latter area. He briefly spoke on the relationship between cyclists and pedestrians, particularly on shared routes and the associated psychology of cyclists in the use of these routes.

Members made reference to the wider, holistic approach to infrastructure provision and the specific cycling issues raised, noting that many road schemes had already come forward through CIL contributions and that, whilst much could be done through implementing low cost schemes, such as cycle parking in the City Centre, the Quay area and residential areas, access to other funding streams was important. In this context, reference was made to the need to put further pressure on the LEP to ensure that Exeter, as the lead area in economic growth, should benefit further from investment. Members therefore supported the proposal that the Board urge the LEP to give full recognition to Exeter’s role in the regional economy for it to receive the appropriate funding support for transport and other infrastructure improvements.

Exeter Cycling Campaign : Mike Walton

Mike Walton, spoke at the invitation of the Board on behalf of the Exeter Cycling

Campaign, presenting its vison for a better city. He stated that Exeter faced significant challenges of congestion, pollution, unhealthy lifestyles and the degradation of the public realm. Other cities were finding solutions to these challenges by making cycling the safe and natural choice for people of all ages, for everyday journeys.

Cycling was good for business increasing employee health and wellbeing and reducing absenteeism. The city’s increasing congestion stifled business and made it a less attractive place to invest in. Businesses across the city recognised the important role cycling had to play and had pledged support through the Exeter Cycling Charter.

There was a need for real ambition to deliver the modal shift away from car-driving.

He enlarged on the four areas of challenge:-

  • Pollution – there were 42 deaths per year in Exeter from pollution with other Cities taking this issue seriously by introducing low emission zones and investing in cycling infrastructure and building safe cycle routes as the only way of enabling a significant ‘modal shift’ away from the car to the bicycle to reduce pollution;
  • Congestion – Exeter is congested and planned population growth over the next decade would see the daily commute volume increase by 40%. Rather than dedicating most road space to the most inefficient way of transporting people – the private motor vehicle – some of that space must be used to prioritise the flow of modes of transport that are more efficient, that is, clear corridors for public transport and the creation of dense cycle networks;
  • Unhealthy lifestyles – Cities are “obesogenic” making it difficult for people, especially children to lead healthy lives. Active living should be promoted through encouraging walking and cycling; and
  • Degradation of the public realm – Quality open space and City Centres that are people focused will attract more tourist, residents and businesses.

Specific proposals for increasing cycling included:-

(a)           segregated cycling infrastructure on busy roads;

(b)           separate people walking from people cycling;

(c)           reduce traffic volumes in residential areas; and

(d)           prioritise people who walk and cycle in residential areas and when crossing side roads.

He concluded his presentation with a number of recommendations for the Board seeking vision and leadership and the empowerment of Council officers to respond to the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP). He also sought a commitment from both the County and City Councils to work on a Transport Plan for the Greater Exeter Area which focussed on moving people not cars. He asked that all submissions from the County Council to the HotSW LEP included urban.

Members were in support of the suggestions, recognising that a co-ordinated, cross Council approach was necessary because of the differing responsibilities of the County and City Councils in service delivery and that engagement at County Council Cabinet level would be important to help ensure the requisite level of resource commitment. There was also a suggestion that a start could be made by identifying two or three pilot areas involving local communities to achieve “quick wins”. The Transportation, Planning and Road Safety Manager advised that any such ideas would need to have regard to existing commitments and the identification of funding.

Similarly, the development of a Transport Plan for the Greater Exeter area would be progressed through the Greater Exeter Strategic Partnership involving the County, the City and Teignbridge, Mid Devon and East Devon Councils.

Exeter City Futures

Jemma Hodgins stated that the aims of the cycling campaign accorded with those of Exeter City Futures which was similarly concerned that an increasing population and an expanding travel to work region were attracting more commuters from across Devon and putting a significant strain on Exeter’s roads, energy resources and wellbeing of the population. Its ambitious goal was to make the City congestion free and energy independent by 2025. She advised that City Futures welcomed ideas from Board Members on ways of changing travel behaviour patterns.

The meeting RESOLVED that:-

(1)         the Board support the following recommendations put forward by the Exeter Cycling Campaign;

(a)           commit to the vision and work to deliver it;

(b)           empower Council officers;

(c)           audit the delivery of existing Council cycling strategies and task Council officers to prepare to respond to the imminent Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) guidance;

(d)           develop a Greater Exeter Transport Plan which prioritizes movement of people; and

(e)           include urban Exeter cycle network proposals in all submissions to the Heart of the South West LEP; and

(2)         the Board urge the LEP to give full recognition to Exeter’s role in the regional economy for it to receive the appropriate funding support for transport and other infrastructure improvements.

TWEET | Chris Dent

Futher reading:

Exeter Cycling Campaign: Building a better city [Exeter Board, 02 February 2017]

Exeter Cycling Campaign: Slides presented to Exeter Board, 2 February 2017

My Storify feed on the issue: 02/02/17 |#ExeterBoard discusses cycling in Exeter

 

 

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Student accommodation vs Affordable Housing for rent

Briefing notes on:

Student accommodation vs Affordable Housing for rent

 Planning background

 It is worth pointing out that planning is not as straightforward as it appears to be – and the upperhand seems to be the control of developers. It’s a capitalism system!

Planning Committee can’t refuse applications just because they don’t like them…need to be on planning grounds, contained within planning policy documents.

The main one is the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] introduced by Tory-led coalition in March 2012 – designed to make the planning system less complex and more accessible – and vastly simplify the number of policy pages about planning.

Paragraph 11 of the NPPF states: “Planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”

Key to the NPPF paragraph 14: “At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.”

As a result developers bring forward only developments that make them money> More often than not, they seek planning permission for what they want to sell [4- or 5-bed detached houses] rather than what Exeter needs more of [1-, 2- or 3-bed homes]. And until thy think they can sell these properties, they often “land bank”.

If Planning Committee turn down applications for spurious reasons, they may be overturned by the Planning Inspectorate – prefer decisions to be made at local level, rather than a beaurocrat in Bristol or beyond.

Student Accommodation

Whether we like it or not, the University is expanding – and ECC has little or no control of increase in student numbers.

And these students need to be housed somewhere.

In 2007, ECC introduced a Supplementary Planning Document [SPD] which aimed for the provision of as much purposed-built student accommodation [PBSA] as possible to reduce the impact on the private sector housing.

The SPD sets out 9 principles relevant to consideration of proposals related to the University. The relevant principles are as follows:
– ECC will expect 75% of additional student numbers attending the University to be accommodated within purpose-built accommodation.
– ECC will seek the provision of as much purpose-built student housing as possible to reduce the impact on the private sector housing market.
– ECCrecognises that relatively high density managed accommodation on appropriate sites will need to make a significant contribution to meeting future [student housing] needs.
– ECC favours provision of further student accommodation in the following general locations:- City Centre – St David’s Station/Cowley Bridge Road area and more intensive use of the Duryard Campus, with some provision of the Streatham Campus.

In addition, ECC issued Supplementary Planning Guidance on Student Accommodation Development in Residential areas in 2008. The guidance noted that changes of use from family dwellings to student occupation was likely to have most impact upon the character and balance of a community because of the loss of other age groups as well as the introduction of more students. It is proposed to restrict further student accommodation in all these forms in areas where there is considered to be an over concentration of students.

The guidance introduced proposals that require planning permission may take the following forms:
• New developments, extensions or conversions into student hall accommodation
• Construction, extension or changes of use to HMO accommodation.
• New dwellings, conversions or changes of use to dwellings that have an internal design that may be intended for student occupation.
• Extensions of existing dwellings where there is evidence of occupation by students

And from 2014, ECC introduced an Article 4 Direction, to limit excessive concentrations of student Houses in Multiple Occupation [HMO] in some wards to avoid adverse impacts upon those areas.

One of the biggest benefits that come with PBSAs is that they reduce pressure on the existing housing stock.

There is an outline planning application for a new PBSA on East on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus [ECC Planning Application 16/1232/01]. The application is for 1300 units of student accommodation.

If these students where to be accommodated in HMO, this would need some 260 houses [assuming 5 students to a house] – that’s the equivalent to 2 Victoria Streets taken up to house these 1300 additional students. By delivering this PBSA we prevent that happening – allowing local families to have homes, or even freeing up existing HMO to be used by single private renters under the age of 35, who are only entitled to housing benefit at the shared accommodation rate

Like private developments being delivered by volume house builders, PBSA do generate profit for the developer. And what a profit!

The Printworks – one of Exeter biggest blocks of student flats, 492 studio and multi-bedroom/cluster apartments on Western Way – was sold for £40m just a year after it was completed at a cost of £16m. [Huge block of 500 student flats in Exeter sells for £40mE&E On-line, 16 August 2014].

One of the problems we face is that planning applications for PBSA seem to hit the pages of the Express & Echo precisely to cause outrage – well I say pages, its mainly for the benefit of social media, where it’s known as click-bait which it turn earns money for the Echo.

With PBSA, ECC Planning Committee are able to impose conditions on the development – most notably in regards to the need for a management plan, which often takes the forms of: “Members noted that a Management Plan for the day to day operation of the Student Accommodation was required to be implemented by way of a legal agreement”.

PBSA in the city centre are close to the clubs, pubs and other entertainment on offer in Exeter, and students returning home cause little or no disturbance to local residents – one of the problems arising out of PBSA on the University campus  is the transient noise of students returning home after a night in the city centre.

Social Housing

“Offering affordable housing choices whilst building and supporting communities”.

Unlike many local authorities, ECC is a stock-holding authority

ECC current has a housing stock of around 5,000 properties – and housing associations in the region of 3,000.

In 2013, ECC took out £56m loan to buy this our own stock under a scheme known as self-financing. The aim was to give us control over our own destiny.

But it’s not quite working out like that – we knew that we would still have to retain Right To Buy.

When we bought the properties, we had to submit a business plan.  At the time, the Govt insisted that the plan set out a formula for rent increases over 10 years – 1% over CPI for 10 years. However, last year reneged on that promise with provisions in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, which requires registered providers of social housing in England to reduce social housing rents by 1% year on year for 4 years from a frozen 2015 to 2016 baseline.

Initially this seems a good deal for tenants – but what it means for ECC is that £8m will be lost from Housing Revenue Account [HRA] – money lost for planned maintenance and emergency repairs, but most importantly for building more social housing.

When we moved to self-financing, the £56m loan took us to the Govt imposed borrowing cap – Labour’s pledge to remove this cap would allow ECC to take on extra borrowing to help cover the cost of building more social housing.

Council Own Build Programme

Since coming back into power in Autumn 2010, ECC has been building council houses – not many, not enough, but at times the best in the SW and 5th in the UK.

2010
– 3 properties at Rowan House in Sivell Place, Heavitree

2011
– 18 one and two-bedroom apartments forming Knights Place, off Merlin Crescent in Mincinglake

2015
– 6 at Barberry Close off Bennett Square in Mincinglake
– 8 at Silverberry Close off Brookway in Whipton
– 6 at Reed Walk in Priory. Reed Walk, Newport Road

All of these had been developed on in-fill sites – former garage sites and similar.

Currently being built on-site now,  26 one and two bedroom apartments to provide quality housing that for elderly residents, on the car park next to Rennes House.

vaughan-road-apartments-1

Plans for the future include an £10m [with additional funding from Govt] Extra Care scheme designed to provide 50 affordable homes for residents over 55 with care needs in Millbrook Village situated off Topsham Road. These are being specifically designed to help assist people with dementia.

All of these have been or will be built to Passivhaus standard – a world leading standard in energy efficient design and construction. Means reduced energy bills for our residents – help address fuel poverty.

It is  is slightly more expensive to build to PassivHaus standard – but not too much more. And it’s a cost we think is worth bearing.

ECC have been pioneering this standard  – we were the first local authority to adopt PassivHaus, and now others now – such as Plymouth and Nowich to name but two – are following our lead.

And our expertise is being shared – ECC and major partners joined together as Exeter Sustainable Energy Efficient Developments [EXESeed] Contractors Framework to assist in the procurement of contractors to deliver energy efficient developments across the City, and beyond.

For more information on Exeter City Council’s PassivHaus programme is contained with a Low Energy Development Information Pack.

And we arenow looking at ways of retro-fitting PassivHaus – or other energy efficency measures – to our properties. On Monday 07 Novemeber, ECC’s Exectutive approved funding for an EU pilot to look at trialling such measures.

This innovated policy needs to be set against Govt’s decision to abolish the The Code for Sustainable Homes, which was announced in a Written Ministerial Statement by Eric Pickles on 25 March 2015. Now houses only need to be to BREEM Code 4 in relation to water and energy targets

Affordable housing for rent

First a few terms [from NPPF]:
– Affordable housing: Social rented, affordable rented, intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. Sometimes self-build housing is considered affordable housing  Eligibility is determined with regard to local incomes and local house prices.

Affordable housing should include provisions to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households or for the subsidy to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision.

– Social rented housing is owned by local authorities and private registered providers (as defined in section 80 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008), for which guideline target rents [50% of local market rent[  are determined through the national rent regime.hority or with the Homes and Communities Agency.

– Affordable rented housing is let by local authorities or private registered providers of social housing to households who are eligible for social rented housing.. Affordable Rent is subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable).

– Intermediate housing is homes for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels subject to the criteria in the Affordable Housing definition above. These can include shared equity (shared ownership and equity loans), other low cost homes for sale and intermediate rent, but not affordable rented housing.

Homes that do not meet the above definition of affordable housing, such as “low cost market” housing, may not be considered as affordable housing for planning purposes.

ECC presses for as much affordable housing to be for social rent

ECC has a clear policy contained in Core Strategy/Local Plan [adopted 2011] for 35% affordable housing on all developments of 10 or more [initially 3 or more, but Govt changed low limit in 2013!].

This can be in the form of housing on-site or a commuted sum for such housing elsewhere in the city.

And we have a Housing Enabling Team that vigorously enforces this!

Developers try it on: over-stating costs and under-estimating profits.

McCarthy & Stone lodged an application for land next to Sainsbury in Pinhoe – said could afford total cost of affordable housing that was required by ECC. Took to appeal and independent accessor said they could. Came back with a revised offer – but still too low to be acceptable – planning permission refused, but now back talking to ECC!

And another developer said before it came before committee that it couldn’t afford any social housing as it spent too much on acquiring the land. Ended up paying ECC a commuted sum of £1m

Some figures:
In 2010/11, 108 affordable homes
In 2011/11, ECC delivered 170 affordable homes
In 2012/13, ECC delivered 26 affordable homes
In 2013/14, ECC delivered 100 affordable homes
In 2014/15, ECC delivered 80 affordable homes
In 2015/16, ECC delivered 74 affordable homes

And 254 currently being build on-site, and more in the pipeline as planning permission has been granted for them.

Threats for the future

Housing and Planning Act seems to remove requirement for affordable housing for rent –

– Starter housing for sale.

Exclusively for first time buyers aged over 23 and under 40, and for sale at 20% per cent below normal market prices. The Act creates a new duty on all local authority planning departments to promote the supply of starter homes in their area.

The Act also allows the government to set regulations requiring starter homes to be included on residential sites as a condition of securing planning permission.

 Sale of higher value vacant local authority homes

Tory manifesto set out plans to require local authorities who have retained ownership of their stock to sell higher value homes as they become vacant.

Govt may impose levy on such properties – even if LA doesn’t sell them. And levy goes to Govt to finance Right to Buy on Housing Association properties.

So much for self-financing!

– High income social tenants: mandatory rents (Pay to stay)

The Act requires local authority tenants with a higher income to pay a higher rent. Initially a ‘higher income’ will be defined as a household earning more than £31,000 per year, or £40,000 in London.

Thus a household with 2 adults and a non-dependent chlld earning the *National* Living Wage could be deemed as High Income

ECC currently deem household income of £60k as high income.

The Act requires local authorities to return any additional rental income generated by the policy (minus administrative costs) to the Treasury – again so much for sel-financing!

– Right to Buy

 All Right to Buy receipts – both from local authorities and housing associations – to be returned to Govt, so new replacement homes could, no will, be built elsewhere in the country!

Council faces student backlash over new bin regulations

exepose

10 October 2016

Council faces student backlash over new bin regulations

by Natasha Christofidou

Students in Exeter facing a build-up of overflowing bins that the Council is refusing to collect – with both students and local residents forced to deal with untidy front porches and unpleasant odours.

IN November 2015, Exeter City Council introduced a new set of enforcements for the collection of bins, as an initiative to encourage recycling from the Council. However, as these rules were only enforced in January 2016, many students and landlords remain confused about the new regulations – with council workers refusing to collect bins that are either overflowing or not properly shut.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-14-03-48

However, the Council’s initiative in encouraging Exeter residents to recycle more has come with significant backlash.

Student housing areas, such as Pennsylvania and Mount Pleasant, have been left in a “grim state”, which “makes the front of houses look and smell gross,” a fourth-year Politics and French student told Exepose.

Student Community Wardens have been dealing with an increased number of student complaints, seeking support in disposing extra landfill and recycling bins. A University spokesperson said that they ‘would advise any students who have inherited waste to liaise with their landlord/agent as soon as possible.”

Exepose found that, throughout the month of September 2016, numerous houses along Longbrook Street and Pennsylvania had been left with abandoned black bins on the pavement. Student complaints have outlined how “ridiculous” it was that “waste is left uncollected.”

A second-year Economics student expressed their frustration at the Council: “I don’t understand what we’re expected to do, it’s absurd that our waste isn’t collected, even though we’re trying to recycle and get rid of our landfill by placing it all in the bins provided. It’s not our fault that a lot of it doesn’t fit in the bins, which is the only reason we’ve initially left bin bags lying on the pavement.”

The University’s Community Liaison Offier, Rory Cunningham, stresses that the University is willing to help students who are struggling with recycling around student houses – especially around move-in periods.

“We are keen to let students know what extra recycling can be taken as long as it is bagged up, labelled recycling and placed beside your recycling bin on recycling day”, he explained.

“The University is fully supportive of the Council’s drive to improve recycling and reduce rubbish” Cunningham continued. “We recognise that it is a challenge for students to recycle effectively when a minority of landlords provide the wrong information or do not clear bins before tenancy begins. We have a very positive relationship with the Council and will be using the Student Community Wardens to help provide accurate information to students who require support.”

However, students have complained that this information needs to be better publicised.

One fourth-year Politics and French student explained that, after returning from her year abroad, she was unaware of such exceptions: “Our landlord didn’t even tell us we were allowed more recycling during Freshers’ Week, so we had to take it to a main recycling centre in town.”

Further complications are seen around around the issue of inherited waste, which included leftover waste from previous tenants, or items that have been placed in student bins by members of the public.

Waste guidance for landlords

The University’s Student Community Warden team advises students to contact their landlord or housing agency regarding most inherited waste.

However, in the case of a lack of communication, the Guild’s Advice Unit can offer support in such scenarios by proofing and enforcing tenancy contracts and avoiding miscommunications.

Further information regarding the issue will be provided at the Advice Unit’s Forum Street Fair on 12 October, when Student Community Wardens will offer advice regarding bin disputes, along with general housing advice.

The iExeter app also features alerts and advice about the issue, including bin collection dates in town.

 

Exeter: Town vs Gown? The housing challenges faced by a university city

Exeter Citizens Advice logo

 

 

 

Exeter: Town vs Gown? The housing challenges faced by a university city

Exeter is a relatively small but prosperous city with growing student numbers.

In a population of almost 120,000 people, students currently account for just over 10% of residents. [1] The University is one of the city’s largest employers and as well as bringing prosperity to the area it also brings its challenges. In our research we set out to look at the impact of a large and growing number of university students on the city, how this is managed and its impact on the housing market.

Our research also considered the specific effects on both the housing market and the community in general of the large purpose built student accommodation blocks, which have proliferated in the city over recent years.

Exeter is a buoyant, growing city that has attracted large businesses and organisations such as the Met Office. The city has a traditional two tier government [County Council and City Council] with a predominantly Labour City Council. The rental market in the city is also buoyant, to the extent there is oversupply according to one city lettings agent. Housing is plentiful, although much of the rental housing stock in the city consists of older Victorian terraced properties. According to a report by the National Housing Federation, private renters in the South West are spending 35% of their earnings on rent – the third highest rent-to-income ratio in the country. [2]. In Exeter, where the average wage is £22,266 and the average private rent is £840 the ratio is even higher at 45.3%. [3]

According to the City Council more than 70% of houses in multiple occupation in the city are occupied solely by students. [4] Landlords who rent to students get a higher income from their properties than renting to professionals or families. Landlords say that properties in areas such as St James and Pennsylvania that are closer to the University demand higher rent and, to date, have always been the quickest to be let. Those houses further away from the University, such as Mount Pleasant and Polsloe, are often cheaper and in recent years have proved less popular with main campus students.

Until 2006/07, as the University grew, much of the new student population was absorbed by the rental market. This led to streets in some areas becoming almost 100% populated by students, and residents say that as a consequence the balance that had existed in these communities is being eroded.

Methodology
Our evidence was gathered through interviews and informal discussions with a variety of people. We spoke to residents, students, the University of Exeter Students’ Guild, university representatives, landlords, lettings agents and the City Council.

The evidence was gathered in two phases:

Firstly, secondary research was collected via desktop reviews of recent newspaper articles and academic research, and from telephone interviews with City Council representatives. This equipped us with a strong initial knowledge base to then conduct in-depth face-to-face interviews.

For the second phase, face-to-face interviews were conducted. A wide variety of participants were chosen in order to be as representative as possible of different issues and experiences. Personal and professional introductions were used to gather the research, as well as ‘cold calling’ where we contacted residents in areas we were particularly interested in. We interviewed 27 people in total: 7 residents of streets considered to have a high student population; 7 landlords (from small ‘hobby’ landlords to professional landlords); 2 lettings agents; 8 students (studying at both the main University campus and the St Luke’s campus); a representative from the Student Guild (an organisation that provides independent, impartial advice for students); a representative from Exeter University and a representative from Exeter City Council. All the interviews were semi-structured and in-depth. Detailed questions were tailored appropriately to the individual we were interviewing.

Through using this multi-stakeholder methodological approach, we have been able to develop a picture of the student housing market today, look at the way it is developing and scrutinise the role of the City Council and the University in this development.

Findings
‘Studentification’ Darren Smith, professor of geography at Loughborough University, identified the process of “studentification” as a change in the proportion of houses in multiple occupation that occurs when there is a large imbalance between the number of 9 students and the number of permanent residents in an area. In his report [5] he examined the effects of studentification on an area and the challenges brought about by large student numbers. His research in other university cities, including Loughborough and Nottingham, reveal a pattern emerging when an area becomes overpopulated with student houses.

His findings revealed that the housing stock which may have traditionally been owner-occupied was increasingly being adapted and repurposed as houses in multiple occupation; leading to areas becoming progressively ‘studentified’. As this process occurred the areas became less popular to other members of the community, creating streets which were filled solely with students. As a consequence traditional businesses and amenities which supported a cross section of the community (such as schools, nurseries and pubs) began to be lost.

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Residents of Exeter commented that there is an imbalance in their neighbourhoods and that it affects their local amenities. For example, residents of the Pennsylvania suburb of Exeter have seen the closure of their local pub during university holiday periods due to its main clientele being students.

The University’s plans to expand in 2006 were supported by the City Council, but on the condition at 75% of the increase in the student population would be accommodated in new purpose-built accommodation, to reduce the impact on residential areas. In the Council’s core strategy document, which was adopted in 2012, it states that the “new purpose built student housing should be located on, or close to, the University Campuses, at sustainable locations at or near to major transport routes, or in the City Centre”. [6]

How has studentification impacted Exeter neighbourhoods?
What happens to a community when there is a proliferation of houses in multiple occupation? The main sources of discontent our interviewees identified were problems with: ·

Refuse – houses in multiple occupation produce more rubbish than a family house. The model of refuse collection in Exeter (bi-weekly collections for landfill) is not adequate for this. There are no door-to-door glass collections. The University is working to resolve some of these problems, for example by paying for extra collections when students leave and providing information detailing collection days. One landlord commented “The change to two weekly collections was almost constructive discrimination against students. Not collecting glass and two weekly collections are two things that make student lives difficult.”

Noise – residents on the main routes to and from campus say noise levels are unacceptably high, particularly in the early hours of the morning after the nightclubs have closed. The University has attempted to combat this issue through the introduction of a student warden system, and employing a Community Liaison Officer who responds to complaints. During ‘Freshers’ Week’ in 2014, Devon and Cornwall Police joined forces with the University and the City Council to run a ‘Neighbours Sleeping’ campaign to raise awareness of noise pollution.

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Parking – residents say it can be difficult to find parking spaces during term time due to high concentrations of students in their neighbourhoods.

Degradation of the area – front gardens become untended and untidy and houses are not cared for.

Loss of community spirit – caused by a transient student population.

We examined the effects of ‘studentification’ on one Exeter ward in particular, St James, which has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. According to census data the number of houses in multiple occupation in the ward increased by more than 2,000 to 2,800 in the 10 year period 1991-2001. [7]

Residents in the area have come together to form the Exeter St James Forum and are the first in the country to develop an urban neighbourhood plan [8] which is now seen as a statutory document. Throughout their work on the plan, residents prioritised the need for balance in their community and “to ensure that future development and social changes benefit the people who live and work here” .

The residents of St James that we interviewed were not ‘anti-student’, in fact they felt that the students and the University were vital to Exeter, creating a vibrant society. But as one resident stated “Students are the same as they always were – but there are just more of them. There’s a balance to be struck and I feel it’s gone a bit far in some areas.”

The cost of being a student
Exeter is the third most expensive place in the United Kingdom to be a student, only London and Guildford have higher rents.[9] The students we interviewed agree that rents in Exeter are high compared to other universities.

The University is committed to providing accommodation, on or off campus, for all first year students and this is taken up by the majority of new students who can apply for places at the residential halls of their choice. In recent years the University has developed its housing stock, refurbishing and rebuilding halls and working with outside partners and the City Council to provide more purpose built accommodation off campus.

Support is offered to students by the University, whether pastoral support for those living in halls or through initiatives such as the Community Liaison Officer, a role created in 2008. As well as a point of contact with the community, their role is to develop policies and projects to manage problems and improve relationships.

Traditionally, students have chosen to move out of halls or purpose built student accommodation and rent a house with friends in their second and third years. A spokesperson for the City Council said it was supporting applications for new purpose built student accommodation to relieve the tensions in some areas of the city and wanted to see more second and third year students choosing them. The Council has also introduced an Article 4 Direction, which restricts the number of houses which can be converted to houses in multiple occupation in some areas of the city. [10] The spokesperson said “ The purpose of the Article 4 Direction is to prevent an increase of houses in multiple occupation in residential areas. Although once students have been in halls they want to move in with their friends and rent in the city and it is very difficult to change that mentality.” This was a factor which was supported by the students we interviewed who all said they would expect to live in a shared house after their first year.

An issue identified by both the Students’ Guild and the students we interviewed was the perceived pressure to find a house early in the academic year. Properties are marketed by agents and landlords as early as October, often less than six weeks after the students have started at university. In recent years one lettings agent has seen students sleeping outside their office the night before their housing list was released, so keen were they to get the house of their choice.

The students we spoke to agreed that they felt pressure to make next year’s housing decisions very early; one student at the St Luke’s campus said “Everyone started looking for houses before Christmas, I felt a lot of pressure. There is so much hype about it and everyone seemed to have it sorted before Christmas.”

Evidence from the Guild supports the fact that this pressure forces the groups to choose housemates and form friendships very quickly, often having disastrous results with groups falling out with each other, breaking contracts and having a huge impact on their life in Exeter.

A spokesperson for the Guild said “It can cause real problems and they tend to rush the process, no matter how much information you put out the message still goes out that if you don’t get your house before Christmas you lose the best houses […] they are forming groups with people they have known for a matter of weeks and signing a legal agreement with them […] From October we have a steady stream of students who want to leave their homes, can’t stand their housemates, or worse, are being bullied by their housemates. Information about their contractual obligations in these situations is probably one of our biggest areas of advice.”

The lettings agents we spoke to say they understand this, but respond by saying they have to act for their landlords in a competitive marketplace. Is it a realistic expectation to ask agents and landlords not to market any properties until the January after the first term?

What is the impact of the ‘9k environment’?
Students now pay up to £9,000 a year in university tuition fees. How does this impact on their approach to how much they pay for their rent? The University’s community liaison officer said he believes it makes them more savvy consumers, demanding better value for money. He added “Students paying more for fees are maybe approaching premises from more of a consumer point of view, they are saying, ‘what am I getting for my money, I’m paying a lot for my degree, I want to make sure everything is good.’’

There was a perception among many of our interviewees that Exeter University students were more likely to be from affluent middle class families. “It has shifted a 13 bit, they are still wealthy, perhaps not as much as they were, but there is still a feeling of affluence,” said one landlord.

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Figure 3 shows student rents across Exeter. Halls can be catered or self-catered; some of the most popular campus-based units are so oversubscribed the University is receiving up to three applications for each room. Rent for purpose built student accommodation usually includes bills, property maintenance and security. There is even a concierge service available at the Printworks (Victoria Hall).

The Knight Frank 2014 Student Property report revealed that [11] students in Exeter are prepared to pay more than 30% more to live in purpose built student accommodation. In the report Keith White, Managing Director of CRM, (the largest independent student accommodation provider in the UK) said “Increasingly, students are choosing their accommodation for reasons beyond just price. They are demanding clever design that allows social groups to form and bond; such as placing kitchens and lounges at the heart of the design and not despatched to the ends of corridors. Likewise, they are demanding services that create wider social interaction; such as events and private activities, all of which adds to their experience.”

Who chooses to live in purpose built student accommodation and why?
The new purpose built student accommodation blocks offer varying standards of accommodation. All the students we interviewed said the blocks were not a consideration for them due to their cost. There was a common perception amongst the majority of participants that the new high-end developments are proving popular with overseas students; the groups we interviewed felt there were many reasons for this:

Some are marketed towards certain nationalities;

Cultural – many overseas students want an en-suite bathroom, something not readily available in Exeter’s traditional housing stock;

Education agents promote the blocks to their overseas students;

Slick websites and readily available online profiles make it easier to make an informed decision from overseas; and ·

Overseas students have greater financial resources to pay for the higher rent.

Some students find they are excluded from the conventional model of renting a house through a landlord or letting agent, and therefore have little choice but to live in purpose built student accommodation. Those students who do not have a UK credit history often have problems securing a property, and require a guarantor. The Guild says there is evidence of students without guarantors being required to pay a year’s rent in advance.

What is the impact of purpose built student accommodation?
In the last few years the number of beds in the city has dramatically increased due to the new purpose built student accommodation. How can we measure the effect of this increase on the housing market, the community and the job market in the city? In Exeter it is apparent that the impact is only just starting to be felt. We examined the implications for the future if the blocks are built without restriction, and the impact this has on the city.

Raising the standards of accommodation – landlords say they feel compelled to compete with the purpose built student accommodation. This means investing in new kitchens and bathrooms, high quality furnishings and whitegoods. One landlord said “They are setting standards so high, raising expectations and pricing some students out of the market.”

Oversaturation leading to landlords being unable to let properties – the number of landlords we interviewed who had one or two properties said they had struggled to let their houses in the last few years. This became particularly apparent in 2012. Different decisions were taken, some choosing to leave a house empty for a year, others choosing to sell their property, whilst others chose to rent to individual tenants. One landlord who was unable to rent to students chose to let his house to four individual tenants instead. He said this caused a number of problems for him. The time required to manage the property increased dramatically and the single tenants did not take care of the property, causing more problems than the groups of students who had rented from him previously.

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Raising rents – as the quality of accommodation rises, so too have rents. The Guild spokesperson said: “Exeter has extremely high rents. The landlords justify the cost by saying that is what the University is charging for its accommodation, so we are going to match our private rents to the same figure, but they don’t have the same sort of benefits for students. Obviously in halls they are not just getting their room and bills, they are getting the pastoral support and other benefits from the University.

Impact on the labour market – the Guild spokesperson said that purpose built student accommodation has a direct effect on Exeter’s labour market “The student package they get from the Government doesn’t cover the rent, so there is pressure on the students to find part time employment. Exeter is only a certain size, and there are only so many jobs available, so that will have an impact on the community.”

Isolate students further from the community – one interviewee suggested that the blocks cause students to become more isolated from their immediate communities.

De-studentification [12]– the “reduction of a student population in a neighbourhood which leads to social, cultural, economic and physical decline” . Rather than areas predominantly filled with student houses becoming more family-orientated, houses in multiple occupation are being left empty or rented out to transient young single people instead, which ultimately does little to improve community cohesion in these areas.

Restricting the number of houses in multiple occupation in Exeter
As part of its vision to protect areas where the residential balance was becoming lost, the City Council introduced the Article 4 Direction in 2011. This placed a restriction on the number of houses in multiple occupation and the Council agreed to resist plans for new proposals for change of use from family homes to new houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in wards where 20% or more of the housing were student properties, to combat the growing imbalance in these areas. This affects around 7,000 homes in the north and east of the city. Proposals to extend the area were the subject of public consultation and were supported in writing by more than 140 households. Their concerns were focused on the imbalance created by too many houses in multiple occupation (housing both students and non-students) [13]: “It can’t come soon enough. I have no issues with the students who live in my neighbourhood, in that they don’t make noise or cause a nuisance. But they are transient. They have no stake or interest in the community. They don’t mix, they only talk to each other. There’s a lot of community spirit in Newtown and the more HMOs you allow, the more that community spirit will be eroded. The result will be social breakdown, with the inevitable increase in crime, vandalism, graffiti and all the other problems that occur in rootless, transient areas.” [Local resident]

I am concerned at the ‘ghettoisation’ which results in areas with a preponderance of student houses with problems arising of noise, litter, refuse bins and unkempt appearance. Where there is the right mix, students appear to take more trouble over the way they behave alongside their neighbours. If the balance tips in favour of HMOs then the whole of the area changes for the worse.” [Local resident]

Residents of St James say the legislation has worked in their area, and there has been a significant halt on the conversion of family homes to houses in multiple occupation. However they also commented that to date, there is little evidence of the affected streets returning to a mixed community.

During the planning process the University of Exeter Students’ Guild raised five points of concern about the Direction: the possibility of rent increases for accommodation in affected areas; addressing transport infrastructure would be a simpler solution to encouraging students to live further from the Campus; disappointment that the Council is not taking the opportunity to explore mandatory accreditation as a city-wide solution; concern about impact on other groups occupying houses in multiple occupation such as young professionals; and how a threshold of 20% students in one area as a desirable maximum had been decided.

There were some unintended negative consequences as a result of the Article 4 Direction. Residents in St James said there was a marked increase in properties being sold and converted to houses in multiple occupation just before it was introduced (this was confirmed in a discussion with the City Council in March 2015). One resident said “Families were realising they wouldn’t be able to sell and changed their houses to student lets and moved to other areas of the city. All of a sudden there was a little peak of houses changing use at that time.” This was confirmed by a landlord who said “Everybody who could turn their properties into a student house rushed it through before it [the Article 4 Direction] came in” . Residents also identified a problem in the streets just outside the defined area seeing a proliferation of houses in multiple occupation.

One resident who objected to the extension of the Article 4 Direction told the council “I would like to state my opposition to such an order, as the benefits system requires single people to be in bedsits or single bedrooms. I feel we need more houses in multiple occupation, not less. The Council’s justification is that many students occupy HMOs. I understand that more student flats are being built in co-operation with the University and the Council should as a policy encourage purpose built student accommodation to prevent HMOs being occupied by students.”

This restriction on developing new houses in multiple occupation creates considerable market pressures. Students are not alone in competing for such properties. Other private renters vying for them include young professionals and single people under 35 who receive Local Housing Allowance. A landlord with a number of houses and a variety of tenants (students, professionals, unemployed people) said “Students aren’t the only people who wish to live in shared housing … the planning requirement is quite strict and applies to three or more occupants, so that could apply to three professionals who wish to house share or flat share. There are therefore less properties available for in those people in the areas covered by the Article 4 Direction.

Accreditation
The Student Guild gives support to students in three main areas; housing, money and academic issues, with most of the housing issues related to the transition from halls to private rental. It organises a housing fair, offers a contract checking service for students and has recently introduced an accreditation scheme. The Guild spokesperson said they would like to see a situation where students were choosing properties owned by accredited landlords. She added “This offers more protection for the students. We don’t have a big problem in terms of standard of accommodation in Exeter and the majority of landlords are good.”

There are currently 50 landlords signed up to an accreditation scheme. The landlords we interviewed who were not part of the scheme said they did not feel joining brought any benefit. One landlord said “ The standards are not high enough, the criteria are so similar to the council’s houses in multiple occupation accreditation they are not bringing any added value.” They added that landlords would be likely to add the cost of joining the scheme on to the tenant’s rent.

Conclusion
The number of students living in Exeter has brought a series of changes that have altered the landscape of student housing in the city. Traditional patterns of streets with a high density student population have been replaced with the proliferation of purpose built student accommodation. The impact of these changes is only now being felt.

There is a limited supply of housing suitable for two main markets – private renters and students who are vying directly for these properties. With students being a more lucrative choice for landlords how is that impacting on other tenants? This is a particularly pertinent issue due to recent changes in benefits for single people under 35 that means they are only able to claim housing benefit for shared accommodation rates.

There is a concern that there will be a tipping point when the market becomes oversaturated with student properties, whilst at the same time students will begin to move towards purpose built student accommodation, leaving swathes of formerly student areas largely empty. Whilst there are no simple solutions, we have identified several key recommendations that have developed as a consequence of this research.

Firstly, we need to increase mobility and offer student accommodation options more widely across the city by improving transport links, introducing planning policies to dis-incentivise property developers and incentivise students to live further away from the university. As part of its framework to support expansion of the University, Exeter City Council “expects the University to significantly improve its commitment to sustainable travel, in particular by funding improved bus services to the campus to provide services throughout the day and into the evening.” [14]

Consideration should be given to the use of a specialised lettings agency that could manage the types of tenants taking on properties in certain streets to regain a balance within the community. This market intervention approach could be used to correct the imbalances that have developed.

An alternative model of accreditation could also be developed. To date, accreditation schemes have not worked and the landlords we interviewed were reluctant to join the current system being promoted by the Guild. Perhaps a model where students rate their property online, along a similar line to ‘Airbnb’ or ‘rentalraters.com’, would prove a more efficient way to pass on information.

Consideration should also be given to introducing extra refuse collections, or different models of collection, e.g. large communal bins in appropriate locations, in streets with a high proportion of houses in multiple occupation.

It is clear there are concerns around how the city manages its growing population and the City Council and the University are working together to address this. The evidence we have gathered shows there is also a real need to listen to those directly affected – Exeter’s residents, landlords and students.

Although it remains a complex issue, perhaps it is time policy makers begin to consider ways to find equilibrium in the community and look at how the local and student communities can be encouraged to integrate as a community, rather than be segregated further from each other. As one resident said “This is a three way relationship, the Council the University and the community and if you want to keep a community you have to keep a balance” .

References:

[1] http://www.exeter.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=19630&p=0

[2] National Housing Federation. 2014. Broken Market, Broken Dreams: Home Truths 2014/15

[3] Ibid

[4] Exeter City Council report to planning member working group 24 August, 2010

[5] Smith, D.P. (2005) Studentification: the gentrification factory?, in Atkinson, R. and Bridge, G. (eds) Gentrification in a global context: the new urban colonialism, Routledge, London, pp.72-89

[6] http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=10103

[7] Smith, D.P., Sage, J. and Balsdon, S. (2014) The geographies of studentification: ‘here, there and everywhere. Geography 99(3): 116-127.

[8] http://www.exeterstjamesforum.org/st-james%20plan

[9] www.accommodationforstudents.com survey 2012

[10] http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=13208 12

[11] http://www.knightfrank.co.uk/resources/commercial/brochure/student_report_2013.pdf

[12] Smith, D.P. (2008) The politics of studentification and ‘(un)balanced’ urban populations: lessons for gentrification and sustainable communities? Urban Studies 45(12): 2541-2564.

[13] http://www.exeter.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=19504&p=0

[14] http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=10562