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New thinking needed to tackle St Andrews housing challenges

Aerial view of St Andrews

The University of St Andrews, Fife Council and the Scottish Government must work together to develop new models of housing and rental provision in St Andrews and North-East Fife to address considerable accommodation pressures in the town and its environs, caused largely by the success of the University.

That is the central conclusion of a comprehensive report published today, Tuesday 17 December 2013, by the University’s own Centre for Housing Research.

The St Andrews CHR – led by Professor  Duncan Maclennan – was commissioned in autumn 2012 by Fife Council and the University to make a detailed, independent assessment of how students, university staff and other local residents fare in the local rental housing market in St Andrews.

The study has found while the success and growth of the 600-year-old University has brought prosperity and employment to Fife, existing pressures on local housing have been increased by an influx of students and staff.

This has added to the disadvantage experienced by some in the local community, most importantly, people on low incomes who have had to look further and further from St Andrews in the search for affordable accommodation.

The University and Fife Council have welcomed the detail yielded by the report and promised to act on its conclusions.

The CHR research – “Growing Economies and Building Homes : Reconciling Growth and Housing Wellbeing in St Andrews” – found:

  • Between 2002 and 2012 the University experienced an unprecedented decade of growth in student and staff numbers. They grew, respectively, by 37 and 63 percent.
  • The University is the dominant local employer in St Andrews and the third largest in Fife. It supports 9000 jobs via research and teaching and now contributes over £450 million a year to the Scottish economy.
  • House prices in St Andrews have risen at rates at the high end of the Scottish price change spectrum, housing supply has been sluggish and owner occupation has fallen from 68% to 60% while renting expanded from 6% to 16%.
  • The growth in the popularity of retirement to the coast has also driven St Andrews house prices, but the University’s impetus, especially in the rental sector, is “unquestionable.”
  • A significant proportion of students – between 10 and 15% – have real difficulties paying for accommodation at current market rates.
  • The majority of students, in the main, get what they want from the local housing market. Two-thirds of St Andrews students live in groups of three or more. This means these “rental groups” have a combined monthly rent capacity of between £1200 and £1600. This combined buying power sets the market and is the economic basis of the displacement of non-students, younger staff and middle-income home-owners from the town.
  • A significant proportion of postgraduate students want to live around St Andrews rather than in the town, tend to pay higher rents than undergraduates and face bigger difficulties in sourcing accommodation. Along with some university staff, post-grad students become the key mechanism by which excess demand in the town is spread into the wider local housing area.
  • University staff incomes vary from under £20k to more than £120k, a quarter live in single person households and the average household size is around 3 persons. Despite the variety of incomes, average incomes for all staff households, and separately for staff renting, lie well above incomes for Fife and Scotland as a whole.
  • The highest rates of home ownership were not associated with the highest income jobs. Clerical workers at the University had the highest home ownership rates while academic staff had the lowest rates of home ownership. There is evidence that some staff are displaced from St Andrews by better resourced student “search” groups.
  • Low-income households are among those who have paid the highest price for St Andrews’ success and popularity. Although the study notes that its data for this section of research is less reliable than for other groups, it found that there were significant numbers of older people in this sector and many had been displaced, over time, out of the town and into poorer quality homes.

The CHR says its report raises important issues of policy, partnership and practice that have implications for the Scottish Government, Fife Council and the University.

It makes a series of recommendations, which include:

  • Government, Council and University need to fashion a more “complete” view of the role of housing investment and supply responses in growing towns. There is a case for considering St Andrews as a venue for policy and practice development in the management of faster growing towns.
  • Creative solutions must be considered and pursued. Innovations in the use of planning, land, infrastructure and private investment need to be marshalled to address current issues in the local rental market. Housing policy and investment responses are required, but Fife Council cannot be expected to be the sole provider of resources, given its constrained budget position.
  • There is a case for a town development partnership involving University and Council to promote and plan changes.
  • The Scottish Government should recognise the need for longer term tenancies and greater security for residents who will live longer in the market rental sector, recognise that deposits paid to landlords are often badly managed and sometimes never returned and consider whether a new “town deal” and Tax Incentive funded schemes might provide the infrastructure support for the housing St Andrews needs.
  • Fife Council should recognise that restraining and reducing the number of HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation) in the centre of St Andrews will cause a shift of student renting into more of St Andrews’ suburbs, a greater displacement of other groups out of the town and the likelihood that any properties returned to the market are more likely to be captured by university staff than other local and poorer residents.
  • The University has to recognise the pressing nature of acute housing needs of low income households, not just in St Andrews but other areas of Fife too. University stimulated investment to house postgraduates would directly increase the housing prospects of non-students.
  • The University could commission an additional 200 halls of residence bedrooms to ease pressures in the undergraduate student housing market, but the likely scale of change required to address the wider housing needs of the community would require a first-step provision of up to 400 mid-market rental beds in and around St Andrews within the next five years.
  • The University and the Council should investigate partnerships with large-scale non-profit social housing organisations to develop and manage mid-market rental housing.

In his conclusion, Professor Maclennan says:

“Most students and staff at the University of St Andrews find adequate, if often expensive, housing. Finding and paying for housing is however a substantial problem for 10 to 15% of the University based population.

“And for poorer renters, with the majority of local renters having lower resource levels available than staff and students, the story of the last decade has been growing displacement into poorer homes and remoter locations.

“Present housing and social security reform policies will only make this pattern worse if old policy thinking remains in place.

“But the optimistic gift of potential growth for the towns, indeed the wider region’s main enterprise, can be fulfilled without social and environmental damage to locals and the locality if new institutions are evolved to jointly plan to shape growth and capture its gains.

“The University and the Town have evolved together over 600 years. Proud of their past, they must make a major leap forward now to capture a better, communal future.”

Derek Watson, University of St Andrews Quaestor and Factor, said:

“We commissioned this research jointly with Fife Council because we are acutely aware of housing pressures in the town and wanted an in-depth independent assessment of the challenges faced by local residents, staff and students alike.

“It’s a key piece of work, not only because it establishes a benchmark from which we can judge the progress of efforts to improve the housing situation, but because it clearly demonstrates that old solutions do not and will not work in St Andrews, and in many cases may actually be inhibiting real progress.

“Prof MacLennan’s research acknowledges the success of the University as an employer and economic driver in Fife but demonstrates that we need radical new thinking and a fresh approach to the housing pressures of a vibrant, popular town like St Andrews.

“It seems very clear that no one organisation can do this alone and that a partnership approach will be required, bringing together Fife Council, the University, the Scottish Government and local residents.”

Councillor David Ross, Fife Council’s Executive Spokesperson for Housing, Communities & Local Services said:

“This is important research in helping us understand the inter-relationship between St Andrews University and its wider community.  Fife’s Local Housing Strategy has highlighted the unique and pressured position of the St Andrews housing market, recognising it as a priority area for new affordable homes.

“Fife Council has taken steps to ensure that all new development makes a contribution to the affordable housing requirement in the community, we have been working with local housing providers to deliver new homes in the wider St Andrews area and sales of Council homes have been restricted to preserve existing levels of Council housing.

“I am particularly aware of local concerns about the growth of HMOs in the town centre and recognise that this is a sensitive issue.

“We look forward to working with the University and other stakeholders in the months ahead to deliver practical solutions to the issues raised within the report, addressing the combined housing needs of the University and St Andrews’ residents. “

ENDS

The full CHR report and executive summary is available online.


Issued by the University of St Andrews.

For further information, or to contact Prof Duncan Maclennan, please contact the Press Office, email proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk, tel 01334 462530.

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