Councillors met at County Hall this morning expecting to rubber stamp another expansion of the University at the Tremough Campus – however concerns about the detail of the proposal and the affects on local housing amongst other things have meant the council has now delayed making a decision until at least March pending further info from the Uni.
The university has applied to increase the total number of it’s students from 5000 to 7500 at Tremough despite promising to cap the number in 2010.
Council officers advised the Strategic Planning Committee to ignore protests from locals and think of the greater economic good to the whole of Cornwall that the university brings. The proposal has received hundreds of official objections from local residents, including a petition against with nearly 3000 signatures and a motion of no support from Mabe Town Council.
The Council is seeking reassurance from the University that the PBSA (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) is built before the expansion goes ahead as the Uni has admitted there will initially be a shortfall, further exasperating local residents.
The university has promised to supply more student only accommodation to cope with the extra numbers – and has promised to build most of it on ground within the campus but figures supplied to the committee admit they want to proceed with the expansion before the full compliment of PBSA is built. The plan also includes a new sports hall, a building for academic and research purposes, support services, refurbishment of existing buildings, improved access and circulation, replacement and new parking, landscape and associated infrastructure and ancillary works.
Treluswell roundabout will have roadworks from now til next January and Treliever roundabout will have to be upgraded too to cope with the extra traffic.
The Uni says on current projections the student numbers will rise to 6500 by 2020 and the cap of 7,500 will not be reached until 2022/23 and 50% of this increase will come from Cornish students. Less than 10% come from Cornwall at the moment. However Councillors grilled the Uni spokesman about the Uni not delivering on it’s promise to spread higher education out to the rest of Cornwall – the so called Hub and Rim approach – and centering it all at Tremough. The Uni countered that they are developing links and delivering degree courses with Bodmin College and Cornwall College but Councillors said they had promised better and to ease the pressure on local housing needs they should increase the size of the ‘Cornwall wide campus’. However the university said these expansion figures were only to do with the Penryn Campus and other expansion could be made on top of that in other Cornish locations.
The new PBSA would make Penryn Campus in the Top 5 university providers of student accommodation in the country and this was a deliberate ploy to ease the pressure on local housing, claimed the university spokesperson.. However they could not say how many extra houses would be taken up in the Falmouth and Penryn area by the expansion.
Councillors spent a while discussing what target the Uni should aim for when thinking of how many housing units to build. The uni want to build 0.75 for every new student and the council recommended it builds 1:1.
Falmouth Town Council made an impassioned intervention to try to delay the decision saying that Penryn and Falmouth is “creaking at the seams”
Then ex MP Candy Atherton, who fought hard to bring the University to Falmouth talked of the Curate’s Egg of the benefits to the town of the university – ie mixed blessings – but she strongly advised the committee to reject the expansion proposal.
Ms Atherton described ‘the bliss over Christmas of being able to park’ and described the noise students make coming home in the early hours. “It’s an absolute lottery who you get as a neighbour”
She claimed that in Falmouth at the moment “If you want to build a student house or a 4 bed exec house you are welcome but there is nothing for local housing needs”
“The economics of this will mean that we will be back here in 4 years time – as the government economics mean more students will be needed”
Councillors also suggested that the Uni should pay more into the town. Under this new plan, the university is only contributing £150,000 to town ‘improvements’ with the proposal stating it will contribute “£150k with £50k allocated to the Treliever roundabout junction improvement and £30k towards the (locals resident) parking permits. The remaining £70k is allocated to improve the bus infrastructure within Falmouth and Penryn and assist with the introduction of Real time passenger information”
Cllr Alan Jewell reminded the committee that no student houses under the HMO scheme pay any Council Tax. “Locals are being forgotten in this debate” he said. Central government reimburses Cornwall Council this money but who knows how long that will last?
Mr Jewell also reminded the committee that the Woodlane campus in Falmouth already has 2000 students so the total numbers in the town will approach 10,000 if the expansion goes ahead..
The student accommodation has also been let out in the summer to the tourist trade and this has affected guest houses and hotels, and then some of these have closed and are turned into .. student accommodation.
“We do have pride in our university but it’s got to be made to work within the local community” Mr Jewell concluded. He would not be supporting the plan.
MK’s Cllr Andrew Long said that he “would have hoped to hear that the benefits deal with the local concerns” However he concluded “I haven’t heard that today”
There was lots of support to enlarge the original hub and rim idea, which has been successful in other parts of the country most notably in Wales, where the remote campuses in Aberystwyth and Bangor are the rim to the main Cardiff hub.
On the risks v benefits Cllr Long suggested that the current proposal “did not adequately deal with the risks- the concerns of the towns of Falmouth, Penryn and Mabe are not effectively been addressed”
“The hub has grown on the campus as much as they can. Increase size of the university but not at Penryn”. Cllr Long concluded before he voted in favour of the deferral.
Cllr Robert Webber proposed that the decision be delayed to allow the Uni to address all these concerns and that was carried 12:8.
The committee was pressed for a date for the new vote and were urged not to kick the decision into long grass or let it slip into the new council. The committee agreed to reconsider with updated proposals from the Uni in March.