SU: housing restrictions would have “greater economic impact” on Lincoln

In January, the then Students’ Union officer for Welfare and Community, Brian Alcorn, told the student council that an Article Four direction – a measure to cap the number of houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs), often used as houses for students, young professionals, and graduates – was “unlikely to happen” in Lincoln.

Yet at the end of last week, City of Lincoln Council announced they were carrying out a consultation over how to control the proportion of HMOs in the city, and whether implementing an Article Four direction would be a sensible idea.

street in the West End of Lincoln

A comparatively high proportion of former family homes in the West End of Lincoln have been converted into Houses of Multiple Occupancy, also known as HMOs (Photo: David Wriglesworth)

Now the SU President, Brian explained what had happened since the start of the year to make the possibility of an Article Four direction a recurring issue.

“What’s happened since January is that council elections have taken place, meaning local ward councillors have changed their stance towards houses of multiple occupancy and the Article Four direction,” he claimed. “On top of that, some local residents in the West End have circulated a petition – during the summer months, I’d highlight, when students aren’t around – but still a petition that got over a thousand signatures, which was then brought to a City of Lincoln Council meeting.”

This petition triggered a full consultation process, which will last until October 24 and will accept written comments from students, graduates, residents, organisations, and anyone else with concerns about HMOs.

Brian confirmed that the Students’ Union would be one of the establishments submitting a written representation. “We are opposed to an Article Four direction, not only in terms of student accommodation, but also in terms of the greater economic impact on the city. Lincoln is starting to become an attractive city for young professionals to come and work in; it’s growing economically and there are closer partnerships with large, national firms.”

He mentions this from a personal perspective, as a recent Lincoln graduate, as well as in his professional Students’ Union voice. “I’m a young professional now, so after my term ends this year, I’d ideally like to stay in Lincoln and find a job and work here. Now, I’m wondering whether I’ll be able to find accommodation and whether it’ll be affordable – because if demand goes up [but the supply stays the same], then the cost will go up.

“Lincolnshire, in comparison to the rest of the UK, is pretty low on the pay scale, so for Lincoln to be an attractive place, you need to get things just right. The wage isn’t quite there, although things are beginning to change, but accommodation is still an issue.”

The impact would likely also be spread across the city too, not just in the West End, he warned. “Indications from the council were that if a direction were to be implemented it would be citywide. Therefore, I’d consider 1,000 [petitioners] for the entire city of Lincoln to be quite small.

“Plus, I would predict that if an Article Four direction was to be implemented, there’d be a sudden rush to convert properties into HMOs. All of a sudden, you’re going from a number that residents already seem to consider too much, then – very quickly – to a lot more than that.”

Councillor Neil Murray wants better regulation of landlords and a reduction of shared houses in central Lincoln. (Photo: Asmund Lovdal)

Councillor Neil Murray wants better regulation of landlords and a reduction of shared houses in central Lincoln. (Photo: Asmund Lovdal)

The council have already formulated a long-term plan that could combat this, it was revealed in an interview with The Linc last week. Councillor Neil Murray said the “strategy is to make sure that there is enough specialised housing such as halls available in Lincoln so the pressure is not too great on the regular market.

“A reduction of shared housing units in Lincoln will not reduce the overall level of accommodation available as building of student flats are on track.”

However, Brian believes that this suggests a “ghettoisation of students”, who are just one of the groups that populate HMOs alongside young professionals, migrant workers, and those on low incomes.

“I think students want to be part of the community, and having residents say ‘why can’t they go and live in their own accommodation, just for students?’ is not very welcoming.

“The work which the SU and students, who have led and shaped our strategy, have done is choosing to engage more with the wider community. I think that has, by and large, been very, very positive. The West End Residents’ Association and local business owners have actually fed back to us that there’s been a noted difference in community relations.”

He also sees other flaws in the strategy. “In terms of real estate there’s limited space around the city centre area. I’m not a businessman, but I would imagine there’s also costs in terms of building, construction, and setting the price – and halls of residence do tend to be more expensive than private housing, and I think that’s why students tend to opt for renting in the private sector after their first year.”

What, then, is his solution to the growing tensions about HMOs, that led to over 1,000 residents feeling the need to take action? When originally discussed at student council, a “landlord licensing scheme” was suggested as an alternative, something which Brian continues to back.

It would be different to the existing accreditation scheme for student housing, which is run by the University of Lincoln and is optional for landlords. The proposed scheme could be run by the city council and be mandatory for all landlords in the city, Brian tells me, although the details would be subject to the results of the current consultation.

“We’ve received confirmation from the council that they’d be welcoming student union input into that; not only ours, but BGSU [the Students’ Union at Bishop Grosseteste University] up the hill as well,” he enthuses, the first time that the SU would have input into such a scheme, after years of discussions with the university.

Looking to the immediate future, Brian concluded: “We’ll be bringing an update to the next student council and asking students to engage in the consultation period and to offer their feedback to us, which will help shape our response to the proposal – and please do come down and support the meetings by attending and expressing their views.”

The issue will next be discussed with the City of Lincoln Council at a meeting of the Policy Scrutiny Committee on November 12. The meeting will be held at City Hall on Beaumont Fee and is open for anyone to attend, although those who wish to speak are asked to let the council know in advance to assist with planning.

To submit a written statement to the consultation on Article Four directions, email planning@lincoln.gov.uk

3 Responses to SU: housing restrictions would have “greater economic impact” on Lincoln

  1. rob lewis says:

    Your report on Article 4 and the HMO situation (in the West End) has been brought to my attention. There are serious flaws in some of the comments in this report and in the interest of balanced reporting you may wish to meet with West End Resident’s Association to hear our side of this subject in detail. Please let me know if you would like to take that opportunity.

    On the subject of the petition you may be aware that an online petition was available at the same time that paper signatures were obtained. This was at the express request of Brian Alcorn so that students not in Lincoln at that time could add their names as Brian assured us many would wish to do. i.e. those who were being affected by the anti-social behaviour of others.

    Also your point about 1000 (actually over 1100) signatures not being that significant on a city wide basis is flawed as WERA only asked for Article 4 in the West End and that is where the signatures were collected. The Council received our petition and then decided they might consider Article 4 city wide. If the whole city is subsequently petitioned I can say with some certainty that there will be many more thousand names on it.

  2. Nigel Manders says:

    I would like to echo Rob Lewis’ concerns about the serious flaws in some of the comments in the report, particularly around the timing of the petition of which Brian Alcorn was fully aware and involved with.

    However, my main issue with this article is that it is written in such as way that the reader would not be aware that Brian was for the last year a member of the West End Residents Association (WERA). In the report Brian refers to ‘some residents have circulated a petition’ but omits to point out that he was actually part of the association that organised the petition to be carried out.

  3. Emile van der Zee says:

    I would like to react to Brian’s comments in relation to suitable accommodation being available for students after they have finished their studies and would like to stay to contribute to the growth of our city. I support this. However, the point of WERA is that such accommodation should not necessarily be available in the West-End which already has a high concentration of students. Closeness to the University is less of an issue when studies are finished, and accommodation/house share is potentially much cheaper in areas further away from the university.

    I think it is important to get the point across of why it is also in the interst of students to have a good balance between students and non-students in the West-End. From the end of May til mid-September many students go home, and leave their accommodation. If the number of students in the West-End would be too high for businesses to sustain themselves over this 3.5 month period (corner shops, pubs) there will not be much of an infrastructure to come back to in September. What is more, local schools, clubs etc. also depend on a minimum influx of young children. It would not be in the interest of students if more young families were to move out of the area (for which there already is evidence) and the West-End becomes a ghost neighbourhood during the Summer, and an area without amenities during the remainder of the year.

    I do realise that the HMO’s in the West-End are not only populated by students. A healthy balance between HMO’s – whether students live there or others – and houses for families is necessary to keep the West-End alive. The request for implementing an article 4 direction is not a request for moving students out. Students do enrich our area, and when staying after their studied do enrich our city. It is about finding the right balance between HMO’s and family housing to support long-term economic and social captital growth.