More and more HMOs in Brighton are being let to students (photo: Nick Blumsom)

More and more HMOs in Brighton are being let to students (photo: Nick Blumsom)

On Friday 17 October students, established residents and council officials debated the issue of studentification in Brighton. The initial meeting was an opportunity for those living in Brighton to voice their frustrations about the negative aspects of high-density areas of student HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation.) The meeting also sought to seek solutions to some of the problems which would be shared by residents.

There were certainly a lot of problems to share. Abuse, littering, excessive noise, parking and transport
problems; one after another the stories were recounted by a selection of residents. Jeff – chair of Coldean residents’ association – told of students urinating in people’s gardens, Mr Ryan of Hanover described the “land-fill sites” of rubbish left on his street and Gillian Fleming of Hanover complained about the constant loud partying on her street. “One does bite ones nails wondering which students will come each year,” said Miss Fleming.

As a student it was difficult to listen to the effects that a minority of students have had on communities
and individuals in Brighton. The anecdotes told may indeed have been individual, unfortunate events and may even have been embellished by the speakers, but one couldn’t help feel that such stories were symptomatic of how poorly student housing has been dealt with in Brighton.

The meeting did not, for the most part, demonise ‘the student.’ Many residents who spoke realised the importance of the student population in Brighton and also that the vast majority of students living in privately rented accommodation do act in a respectful manner. “We understand the universities and the students help to make Brighton and Hove the vibrant, diverse and exciting city we are today” said Councillor Anne Meadow “but they do bring additional stresses.”

And it is perhaps not surprising that there are “additional stresses” given the vast increase in students populating Brighton. The number of students living outside campus has grown by 50% – from 2,000 student properties to 3,000 – between 2004 and now. Such a large increase in the student population has forced a reassessment of the impact student housing is having on Brighton.

A popular suggestion at the meeting was to cap the number of student houses in any one street in Brighton. Initially the idea seemed a satisfying solution but other voices soon suggested some potentially undesirable implications such a move would have. Firstly, Conservative councillor Tony Janio took his stance on the idea saying, “I don’t like the idea of putting massive regulations on anyone.” He stated that “people should be allowed to make their money.” Tanya, an ex-student of The University of Sussex, gave a more reasoned argument against capping the number of student HMOs when she suggested that “if you cap student housing you will end up with a lot of empty houses in this economic climate.”

The pursuit of financial gain was cited by many speakers as the root cause of the problems being discussed.
For property speculators student houses are sure-fire prospects and with this has come a disregard for the needs of communities and of students. “To me it’s all about profiteering” stated Mr Trevor Wood, chair of Coldean Residents’ Association. Mr Wood referenced the leaflets continually dropped through his door which offer to sell his house to become a student property.

Richa Kaul-Padte, Welfare officer for the USSU was one of the team of Sabbatical officers at the meeting and she also pointed out that the property speculators’ drive for quick cash has resulted in poor and over-priced living conditions for many students. It was clear from the discussion that the dependability of the student housing market has been a crucial factor in creating the negative aspects of studentification.

A telling moment came at the meeting when Adam Farrell, USSU Education Officer, spoke of students’ inability to disperse to the “nicer” parts of Brighton due to cost issues. This slip of the tongue was clearly meant with no offence in mind, but the delivery implied that many of the residents who had previously spoken were not living in “nice” areas. As Adam took his seat the Chair of the meeting branded the comment “unfortunate” above a sea of dissenting voices. It was the only instance in the meeting that the fragile relationship between existing residents and students was revealed and communication came close to breaking down.

Indeed, one of the main things that came out of the meeting was the need for more communication. Residents and students were all agreed on the fact that discussion between universities,
councils and local housing committees would help to make a more thoughtful plan for future student housing.

Dr Darren Smith, based at Brighton University, is an authority on studentification and was one of the first academics to use the term. He will be offering his expertise at the next meeting at Hove Town Hall on the 7 November. For Dr Smith it must seem a shame that the term studentification has gained such negative connotations in the press recently. When asked of his opinion on the usage of the term he says “As a term studentification alerts key organisations to undertake actions and formulate strategies which are in the best interests of both the majority of students and established residents. I think this message has tended to get lost in a lot of the exchanges in the media” he adds.

Studentification is for many a word that conjures images of the ‘student ghetto’- a street littered with rubbish, drunken students urinating on pavements and houses blaring out music until the early hours. But must studentification really mean this for Brighton? Dr Darren Smith points towards a brighter future for Brighton when he highlights that “many institutions have been proactive at addressing the issues of studentification in the city, and this will ensure that the city yields the benefits of having a large student population in the future.”

It seems at present some residents believe the cons of densely-populated student areas of Brighton far outweigh the benefits. One hopes that from the meetings held by the Council’s Scrutiny Team a solution is found and students in Brighton can continue to integrate into the diverse communities found in this great city.

Got opinions on this topic you want to share with the Brighton and Hove Council? Contact Richa Kaul-Padte, Ussu Welfare Officer at welfare@ussu.sussex.ac.uk or comment on this post and she will share your views with the committee.

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