The housing crisis shows how Brighton and Hove is struggling to cope with the success and growth of its universities.
The success of Brighton and Hove’s two universities comes at a price, a meeting will be told this afternoon (Tuesday 16 December).
A report due to be presented to Brighton and Hove Connected said: “University growth (will) have a large impact on the current make-up of communities along with political implications. There are also potential issues around students not paying council tax and huge pressures on housing supply.”
The last point will surprise few. Some blame students for the housing crisis in Brighton and Hove.
For sure, students have added to demand – as have the rising number of family breakdowns, holiday home owners and people moving here from London. But this is to overlook other factors. Key among them is that the number of houses built has plummeted.
Some 329 homes were completed in Brighton and Hove in 2006-07. In 2012-13 the number was 46, compared with 58 the year before and 51 in 2010-11.
Yet even the recent peak – eight years ago – was well below demand and the averages of the 1950s and 1960s.
We have built obstacles to the creation of new homes. And the resulting housing crisis is far from unique to Brighton and Hove.
As they have burgeoned, people who bought their nearby council homes have rented them out to students or sold them to landlords who have done the same. Family homes have become student digs.
The character of streets and sometimes a wider area has changed. It was christened “studentification” and it has its critics.
The universities have worked with Brighton and Hove City Council to tackle some of the problems but it can be a bit like whack-a-mole. As one problem is dealt with, up pops another.
The universities agreed a more strategic approach – to create purpose-built blocks. Some are on the campuses at Falmer. Others are in town, close to university buildings or the roads leading there.
One scheme put forward by Sussex envisaged about 4,000 student bedsits on the Falmer campus. University staff worked with planning officials to shape a scheme that conformed to local planning policies. But councillors turned it down.
On Friday (12 December) the university submitted a formal appeal.
Two days earlier a scheme for 205 Brighton University students was approved. It is one of a number of similar schemes making progress, including Circus Street.
But even as members of the council’s Planning Committee voted in favour, they expressed concerns about noise and disturbance, rubbish and mess, parking and transport and the buildings themselves.
There is a danger that you’ll look like King Canute and the tide will come in anyway
One of the council’s most senior officials, Geoff Raw, spelt out some hard truths to a different committee last month.
Mr Raw told the council’s Audit and Standards Committee: “We’ve been in discussion with the universities because they are forecasting student numbers to increase by about 12,000. They are looking at about 6,000 units of accommodation.
“We have to be pragmatic. Those students will come to the city regardless of what the council thinks. There is a danger that you’ll look like King Canute and the tide will come in anyway.
“There are opportunities to look at student accommodation in the city and be an investor in it. It stops the pressure on the loss of family size accommodation in the city.
“Students make the decision about where they live. They can’t be forced into halls. Brighton is seen as a party town and they want to be here.
“There are sites in Newhaven, for example, and they are 15 to 20 minutes on the train from the universities. But it may be hard to persuade 18 to 22-year-olds to live in Newhaven.”
The universities are worth more than £1 billion to the local economy and employ thousands of people. The council cannot stop their growth.
It can work with them and help them better understand local needs. Or it can play gesture politics and abdicate its duty to us all. You don’t need a degree to work out what’s for the best.