University should contribute to South Bristol community

July 28 2017
University should contribute to South Bristol community

The University of Bristol's £300m new campus at Temple Meads could have major effects on next-door Totterdown, argues Cllr Jon Wellington. A PhD student at the university himself, he says the university should be prepared to contribute to the community on which it is about to have an effect. Totterdown is already

Aerial view Temple Meads university plan

Pictured: Aerial views of the proposed university campus at Temple Meads on the Royal Mail sorting office site, and the northern part of Arena Island.

Cllr Jon Wellington's prepared speech to the full council meeting on July 18:  

As part of the new university campus at Temple Meads, a 25 storey block of student accommodation is proposed to be built on the site of Arena Island, which falls within the boundary of my ward of Windmill Hill.

As a PHD student at Bristol myself, and somebody who came to Bristol in order to work at and now study at University of Bristol, I am of course a great supporter of both universities and the benefits they bring. I am also keen to stress at the outset that I do not believe that the council tax exemption for full time students should be lifted.

Before I was elected here, I worked in undergrad admissions for four years at the University of Bristol and I saw first hand and indeed implemented the the expansion of student numbers in that time. The removal of student number control completely in 2015, which limited the number of students with grades below ABB or equivalent at A-level - means that universities can now admit as many undergraduates to their programmes that they can accommodate in the labs or lecture theatres. This removal of student number controls served to reinforce the marketisation of higher education, and has forced universities to compete for students. The need for the best students has now been replaced by the need for any students.

Most universities, Bristol included, have a guarantee on university accommodation for first year students, and this, along with the expansion of places for international students, has driven the massive expansion of student accommodation in the city. There are debates to be had about the changing nature of demographics in the city, and in the city centre, but it is the effect of greater student numbers and the increase in houses of multiple occupation as they enter their second and third years that is most relevant here.

Totterdown, which is my ward and also where I live, would be an attractive option for students in the second and third year who use the new campus, being just ten minutes away, and several residents have already expressed their concerns. I am sure other colleagues have had the same.

The likelihood is that the introduction to an area of a higher incidence of houses of multiple occupancy, which is part of the culture of university life in the Uk, will place a strain on the local neighbourhood through the need for greater use of council services, and through possible yet more strain on parking and traffic which is at breaking point in our area at the moment. If the university is to continue to expand, the need for their cooperation with the needs of the city is vital. However, this now needs be matched by a financial contribution to neighbourhoods and infrastructure services so that communities that are seeing increased student numbers are protected from declining services as a result of population growth.

The university in its promotional material makes a great play of its position in the heart of the city, which it markets as a wonderful regional city with a great nightlife and cultural offer. Which of course it is. However if the university is willing to benefit from it's place in our city, it should also contribute to it.

As such - I support this motion, with the important caveat that students are not hammered again with yet more financial pressures. In addition to tuition fees, we live in a city with high rents and higher transport costs than other cities. The difficulty of enacting the terms of the motion is that any contribution from accommodation providers would simply be passed on in rents, and a similar contribution from the universities could see an increase in student fees. It is important, then, that students, who are already hit with fees, and then saddled with debt for decades afterwards, are not made to pay more for this.