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Durham students are drain on communities and give little back, claims councillor

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Students in Durham are a drain on communities and contribute little back in return, according to a county councillor.

Coun Jan Blakey criticised the youngsters’ attitudes during a debate on whether to allow a house in a Gilesgate cul de sac to be converted into a six-flat house of multiple occupation (HMO).

Planning officers had recommended approval for the scheme in St Josephs Close.

But members of Durham County Council’s Area Planning Committee (Central and East) rejected the plans at this week’s meeting at Durham County Hall.

She said: “The students do not bring a lot to our communities, there’s a lot of take but not a lot given back, and I don’t think another HMO is the answer to the problem.

“There’s already enough in Durham City and they’re starting to spread to the villages.

“It’s not that we don’t want them, and if they interacted with their communities I think people would look on them better, but they don’t.”

Durham Constabulary had also back the views of the councillors, submitting a letter of objection, criticising the ‘very serious impact’ it could have on a ‘quiet residential cul-de-sac’.

As well as the effect on amenities such as parking, councillors were also concerned about how the change of use could affect the appearance of the street.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Robyn Craig of estate agent Nicholas Humphreys Durham said: “At the moment, the property is vacant, because it’s going through a phase where we’re trying to get tenants into the property.

“Once they move in we, as property managers, have a responsibility to keep the property as it is and so do the tenants.

“If they don’t, we have the right to get them out of the property.”

But, following a site visit earlier that morning, Coun Owen Temple replied that on the basis of the current state of the property it ‘doesn’t suggest we can rely on them [the agents] for the students they will be applying it to’.

Coun David Freeman also criticised Durham University itself, saying it had ‘very limited interest in how students behave when they’re not living on their own accommodation in colleges’.

Following the meeting, Durham University’s vice chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, has said he is considering introducing an American-style ‘honour code’ to try and improve student behaviour.

Coun Alan Gardner excused himself from the debate after raising his employment with the university and admitting he may have entered the meeting without a totally open mind.

Before a final vote on the plans, the council’s legal officer reminded councillors they could only consider the matter at hand and could not consider potential future applications.

Councillors voted unanimously to refuse the scheme.

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service