CLLR WILL SANDRY AND CLLR SHAUN MCGALL - REPRESENTING OLDFIELD WARD IN THE HEART OF THE CITY OF BATH Weekly Advice Surgeries: First Saturday of the month, 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. In the foyer of the Co-op Scala, Shaftesbury Road, Oldfield Park. No appointments needed, just turn up and we'll try and help...

17 March 2008

Campaigning for a balanced community in Oldfield Park

As I said in the previous posting, last week I attended the Councillors Campaign for Balanced Communities annual meeting in Nottingham.

85 delegates registered, including councillors, MPs, Council officers and local resident groups and activists from University town and cities from across the country. I was the only person from Bath!

Local residents groups and community activists came from Leeds, Nottingham, Leicester, Canterbury, Southampton, Manchester, Loughborough, Swansea. Locally another Lib Dem Councillor attended from Bristol. Cllr Mark Wright represents Clifton - another area with many HMOs and students.

The morning was was entitled "Perspectives on Balanced Communities". Maya Fletcher (Chair, Nottingham Action Group, aka NAG) spoke about 'getting upstream of the problem' - ie tackling the original causes, rather than mopping up after the event. This is the approach I wish our Council would take. My effects with the Student Liaison Committee tried to do this, but our strategic issues and plans were continually blocked by councillors from our parties on the Council.

Cllr Alan Clark (Nottingham City Council) spoke about his Council's efforts. Mr Richard Tyler, Chair of the National HMO Lobby, used the opportunity to launch the National HMO Lobby's publication Balanced Communities & Studentification.

Derek Goss (Kent Uni, Canterbury) spoke about addressing effects, but in many ways missed the point about loss of balance.

Finally, Roberta Blackman-Woods MP (Durham) spoke about the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Balanced Communities (which she chairs,) and the need for legislation to address concentrations of HMOs (not only student houses). Don Foster MP is a member of this welcomed additional lobbying group in Parliament.

Between the presentations, there was opportunity for questions and discussion - taken up avidly by community reps and councillors.

After lunch, us councillors met separately, and heard presentations on studentification, accreditation, and managing noise & rubbish.

Meanwhile, the residents HMO Lobby held its own meeting, and had their own presentations on noise and waste (Officers from Nottingham City Council). Andrew Crates (Community Planner, Leeds City Council) spoke about the planning framework within which local authorities can adopt policies on HMOs and other relevant issues.

Then, Darren Smith (Brighton Uni, who invented the term 'studentification') spoke on the politics of studentification, arguing for a much more radical approach to the issues [some of which have been taken up by the Lobby]. Again, there was opportunity for discussion.

Richard Tacagni (LACORS) spoke about the benefits of the Housing Act 2004 (which introduced HMO licensing).

The annual meeting then closed with a few words from Cllr Dave Trimble (Nottingham CC) and from Maya (NAG).

At one level, the conference was invaluable for meeting fellow councillors and colleagues and reinforcing the solidarity of the Councillors Lobby - it gives you strength to persevere knowing you are not alone! Also, it was invaluable for exchanging info on what can be done, and what current developments there are - even though some of these are frustrating.

Finally, I think three valuable lobbying opportunities emerged:

#1 Roberta Blackman-Woods MP took up the HMO Lobbies proposals for tripartite delegations to the Ministers for Planning, and for Universities (comprising APPG, CCBC and Lobby) to lobby for action.

#2 Roberta is convinced that the governments current Private Rented Sector Review is crucial, and that further lobbying here is needed. I'll write separately about this.

#3 The launch of Balanced Communities & Studentification gives local residents not only a position statement from the community's point of view, but also a publication which visually demonstrates that the HMO Lobby (and its members which include Downstream South and the Bath Federation of Residents Associations) is a serious organisation.

What do you think? Please let me know.

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