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Letter: Cancelling Student Housing Scheme Was A Wasted Opportunity

Published on: 6 Nov, 2018
Updated on: 6 Nov, 2018

From George Dokimakis

Guildford Borough Council (GBC) in a closed session cancelled the £81 million investment for student housing. It was a wrong decision that demonstrated the lack of vision, understanding, and competence that plagues this administration.

George Dokimakis.

GBC has no vision for the future of our borough that addresses the needs we have now as well as the ones we will have. This was an opportunity to create more of dedicated student housing in an otherwise spacious part of the town that could provide decent housing, with retail units on the ground floor (not part of the original design but easily changed) to make the area a local hub of activity, removing the need for students to travel to town for basics.

Reduction in need to travel clearly eases traffic, and the project would also alleviate the demand for housing and offer opportunities for local businesses. This project was a bold suggestion that hinted at a greater future for Guildford.

GBC shows little understanding of the pressures faced by local communities by the conversion of family homes to student housing. Guildford is a student town. There is need for housing for existing students (I am against the aggressive expansion of student numbers the University of Surrey desires, as there is no support for them).

Westborough, Park Barn and Onslow are changing as landlords modify family homes to student houses, eroding the community cohesion. Just a decade ago, people knew their neighbours and there was stability. Now, in many parts of these wards, residents increasingly live next to transient student populations that often have little regard for the local area and its residents. This is not a case of social housing verses student housing, but recognition that both are needed. We cannot trade one for the other.

The GBC decision is a damning demonstration of incompetence. For a project of this size, one would have expected all due diligence and viability studies to have been completed before putting the matter to a full council. This does not seem to have happened.

Rushed ideas and decisions demonstrate a lack of leadership and capability which combined with the result, indicate to an inability to provide solutions to existing problems. In the corporate world, such actions would have led to reorganisation and dismissal of those in charge. In the public world, we have to wait for the elections in 2019.

On Twitter, GBC leader Cllr Paul Spooner told me the reason for cancelling the project was the return on investment. This project would have had effectively confirmed 100% occupancy year in, year out as students demand decent accommodation. In a town where landlords constantly change family homes to student accommodation for the profits this yields, it is astonishing to suggest that GBC would not be making enough money out of this.

In an era of low interest rates, borrow to invest is a basic economic argument for improving one’s long term fortunes. GBC seems to be lacking the basic economic nous that can create a long-term future for the borough and the courage to make the decisions required.

This administration has little else to offer. Cancelling behind closed doors just reinforced everyone’s belief that this administration is trying to hide its inability to solve the borough’s problems. This was a wasted opportunity.

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Responses to Letter: Cancelling Student Housing Scheme Was A Wasted Opportunity

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    November 7, 2018 at 12:54 am

    From what I understand, the commercial sector is providing all student needs. They got on the band wagon first and are now flying ‘the red flag’.

  2. John Perkins Reply

    November 7, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I completely disagree: GBC was absolutely right to drop the idea. Risking taxpayers’ money to subsidise any business is wrong and possibly illegal under EU rules. It was extensively tried in the 1970s and almost invariably led to failure. If the university wants to provide accommodation for its customers then they are free to do so; they have the land and permission to use it. There is no reason why anybody else should pay for it.

    The suggestion that an increase in the student population could reduce the need to travel and therefore traffic because they can be packed into a ghetto is contrary to all logic.

    If Cllr Spooner thinks the investment would not make a return then I for one believe him. He is in a better position to judge. The current “era” of low-interest rates is a mere decade in two centuries of much higher rates.

    Anyone over the age of 40 should be able to remember times when rates averaged 10% and reached as high as 17%. Achieving 100% occupancy is unlikely as it would require a shortage of accommodation and no drop-outs. Not to mention those institutions that are unable to attract enough students to ensure their own solvency.

  3. Valerie Thompson Reply

    November 7, 2018 at 11:42 am

    What nonsense!

    Thankfully GBC had an unusual turnaround of this decision. As they have themselves admitted, there will be a £8 million+ deficit next year on essential spending. How could they even consider borrowing £81 million for a project they should not be involved in?

    GBC should not be building student accommodation, the university should build their own.

    Students are clogging up houses that should be available to Guildford residents. Why shouldn’t the students cycle or walk into town for their necessary shopping? At least if they do that it might keep some more shops open!

  4. Martin Elliott Reply

    November 8, 2018 at 4:59 am

    I just wonder why there is no mention of George Dokimakis’ affiliation.
    Last year he was Chair of Guildford Labour when writing to The Guildford Dragon.

    Is he now writing as party official, a former party official or a, now fashionable, “independent”?

    Mr Dokimakis, we were last informed, is only a Labour party member now. We do give affiliations, where known, when authors have a committee role in party organisations. Ed

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