A week ago yesterday, Canterbury City Council’s planning committee was presented with the three planning applications involving the construction of student flats.
It approved the schemes at the former Dairy Crest site in Military Road and on the former coach park and Serco site, part of the wider Kingsmead regeneration project. But it rejected the Guy Hollaway proposal for the former St Mary Bredin School.
It’s all very well approving what is called purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), but the truth is Canterbury is facing a housing crisis: there are thousands languishing on the council’s housing waiting list.
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And the problem with PBSAs is that they are only be suitable for students aged roughly between 18 and 22.
They are overwhelmingly used by first year university students, and it is often these very students who will use the new accommodation wildly, before the pressures of later years’ studies set in.
More to the point, we just don’t need them. I’m not speaking as some silver-fox nimby – I’m a student who is not convinced of the value of PBSAs.
We already have rooms lying empty and yet planing permission has been granted for more. There are even further applications in the pipeline.
With three large and growing universities in Canterbury, these applications may initially seem justified.
More than 1,200 beds are expected to be created in these buildings. Yet once you start digging, much of the evidence does not justify the need for them.
Firstly, Christ Church students predominantly commute from other areas of Kent and south-east London. This is why the university hasn’t filled the accommodation available to it.
At the other end of the city, the University of Kent has enough housing on its hilltop campus. Why would first years want to travel from PBSAs in Canterbury city centre when they could live on campus, close to their classes?
But this is just the start of the problem. PBSA buildings have no real longevity and are useless to any other demographic.
I have read comments from various members of the public who strongly object to yet more student accommodation. Having attended some planning meetings, I see the obvious concerns residents have.
The objections raise the points that traffic will worsen, air and noise pollution will rise, and the student presence will be very noticeable. No wonder they are concerned. I would be.
Instead, what we ought to be doing is striking a fair balance between the needs of residents and students.
We have a chronic lack of social housing and affordable housing in our area. Why is the planning committee not doing more to strike the necessary balance? We need mixed-used developments – and council-led ones at that.
The council would be wise to focus on trying to facilitate the creation of developments that can be occupied by students if their numbers are rising and permanent residents if they are not.
Cllr Alan Baldock, leader of the Labour group on the council believes the authority should “re-employ a city architect to ensure design and functionality are at the heart of mixed-used city developments, preferably led by the council rather than private contractors”.
I would like to see the council work with the community, with residents and students all of whom can inform it of what they think it needs.
Thus we could reach a compromise to make sure new developments are capable of serving not just students, but all demographics across the whole city.
Archie Ratcliffe is a second year law and politics student at Canterbury Christ Church University. He has done work experience with Canterbury and Whitstable MP Rosie Duffield.