Mackenzie: Council housing plans “anti-student”

OUSU have challenged Oxford City Council over “anti-student” language in new legislation that seeks to cap the University’s future student accommodation projects.

President Martha Mackenzie criticised the language used in the Council’s initial proposals as “arbitrary” and hopes negotiations will narrow a “fractured relationship” between students and the housing department of the council. Both Oxford University and Oxford Brookes would have been adversely affected by the Council’s initial proposals, according to the president.

Initial proposals amongst the allegedly “anti-student” documents included capping the building of houses of multiple occupancy (properties with three or more tenants) where they exceed twenty per cent of the properties on any given street. The proposals did not handle student accommodation as a separate entity.

But after negotiations between OUSU and the Council, the Oxford authorities agreed to produce an alternative proposal for the organisation of student housing.

“If (the negotiations) hadn’t taken place,” Mackenzie said, “the development document as it stands would have just gone ahead. It would only have served to exacerbate existing tensions. The council might otherwise not have involved students or OUSU in the process at all, and so the final outcome of that process would have been very anti-student.

“The initial proposal and policy was completely evidenced by the anti-student diatribe…(the proposals) completely blamed the students for housing issues the council has met in the past. Given that no students were actually contacted in connection to the proposals, they actually added flames to the fire of what is already a slightly contentious relationship between students and the council.”

“We wanted to see a re-write of that document…“It is standard procedure for Council to produce housing policies which are separate from a general housing policy and unfortunately that had not been the case, in this situation,” she added.

The negotiations are part of OUSU’s ongoing campaign to improve “town and gown” tensions in Oxford.

Currently only around five streets in Oxford would be affected by such changes, and the legislation would not come into action retrospectively. But OUSU remained concerned that the caps would adversely affect the University housing projects of tomorrow.

One 2nd year Historian was pleased to hear of the new proposals: “I live out on Cowley and even though these new Council proposals won’t affect me, or any other students, for the next few years, it s great to see that OUSU are taking steps to improve the situation.”

One finalist was less optimistic about the prospect of alterative housing plans.

“There will always be contentions between the University and the Council on this issue,” she said, “I’m not sure whether the alternative proposals will end up being drastically different from the proposed housing cap the Universities might be facing already.”

But Mackenzie remains determined to close the gap between students and housing authorities.

“The real issue we are starting to address is that of how do students become residents,” she said, “It’s our responsibility to improve relations between students and the council. Charities officer Daniel Stone in particular has done some excellent work in this area, and been able to put together some really good community volunteering schemes.”

However one 2nd Year Physicist at Wadham highlighted the importance of “long term strategies.”

“The student housing issue is an on-going one, but we do need to find a solution that will benefit all concerned parties in the long term. Yes, we need improved integration between the students and the council – OUSU’s efforts here are highly commendable – but we should still be looking towards the future. It’s possible that a cap on student housing may well be productive step forward in the future . Either way it’s good that OUSU have hit the ground running this term with these talks.”