2000 students from 5 universities in the same area of one city - your idea of heaven, or your idea of hell?
New student accommodation plans in Selly Oak, Birmingham are promising a full-scale transformation from surburbia into student-ville. The developments will offer a total of 2000 places - double the amount needed for University of Birmingham undergraduates - which means that students from Aston, Birmingham City, Newman and University College Birmingham could be snapping up the surplus. Imagine a 5 way varsity, with as much alcohol but with far less space.
Yet concerns about how this will alter the character of the area are not just limited to late-night house parties and accidental fire alarms over burnt dinners. Indeed, many are simply worried about the practicalities of pulling off such an enormous project. Selly Oak representative Councillor Karen McCarthy said that the Elliott Road units (a 329-room student block to be built on derelict land) were way too small, 'like cramming students into rabbit hutches;' whilst the box-like extensions built at the end of people's houses have also been compared to Brazilian favelas.
Planning Officer Simon Turner has tried to reassure residents that 'these applications are a sign of growth in the market for secure and managed accommodations', and that a new planning policy has been adopted to stem the tide of such development. He also argued that these projects 'may alleviate the other pressures in the area', such as the demand to convert family homes in Bournbrook into shared lets, which had proved a major concern in recent years.
However, is it too little too late? The university has already confirmed that the 1000 units being built will meet the needs for accommodation; and another plan, to build student flats on the site of the Rich Bitch recording studio nearby, is set to go before the planning committee early next year. But when the public relations backlash is this big, surely something has gone very wrong.
Sure, Britain's students do need more readily available and affordable accommodation, but just sticking them in rooms with little thought for the wider implications just isn't going to cut it. Whether or not a build-and-run has been done in this case however, is an argument that will rage on for months - if not years - to come.