University of Northampton – Challenge for the Future
The reported proposals that the University of Northampton is seriously considering building a brand new University Campus including a student village is in itself a fantastic and challenging prospect for the University at a time when the forecast is that there will be a fall of 12% in the number of students enrolling arising from the Coalition Government trebling the cost of going to Higher Education.
I am told that the project would cost in the region of £250 million which is a huge commitment from the University Board and which will whilst raising a great deal of support will also raise a number of concerns and not only about the academic direction the University may be embarking on.
For example will a new University of Northampton built on the land at alongside the new Avon Headquarters see a move to specialising in fewer University Degree courses and what will they be, and how will a new campus be received by students who are looking to come to study in Northampton?
If there is to be a student village there to complement the recently agreed St Johns student accommodation what will be its size and how many students will be accommodated in it?
This is an important question on many levels and could have a significant impact on Northampton amongst who will be private landlords who currently provide accommodation in excess of 3000 students in over 700 houses and flats in the town.
On the positive side if a student village is built to accommodate 3000 students it would free up a large number of houses for families who are on the waiting list and those who through no fault of their own are facing becoming homeless.
This will cause a major issue for those who have bought properties solely for the purpose of letting to students in that their rental income would be dramatically reduced and the Governments cap on housing benefits not only for families but for single people up to the age of 35 will limit the rent they can charge and put at risk their whole business plan.
It may of course be an opportunity for the Borough Council to come to an agreement with private landlords and agree to a long-term contract which guarantees the landlord the income and where the Council in effect uses the homes as an increase to the current Council Housing stock.
The risk of not having a tenant is then borne by the Borough Council and not the landlord which may alleviate some of their concerns.
With over 8,000 people registered on the Borough Council housing waiting list, many of who if the Council were being honest don’t have any chance of getting a council house, I don’t believe there isn’t any danger that homes wouldn’t have a tenant
Other businesses especially in areas where there are currently large numbers of students may also suffer if students move out to a purpose-built campus village.
I’m uncertain whether the University will be eligible to the incentives that will be available to other new businesses who may be considering investing and locating to the SEMLEP Waterside Enterprise Zone, but it may be a catalyst for companies to come to Northampton though the University’s Social Enterprise programme launched last year at the House of Lords and which I was really pleased to have been able to attend.
It is early days in the proposals but one thing is very certain.
If the University is going to move forward with such a large-scale, dynamic, exciting and long-term project there will need to be really detailed discussions with a whole host of organisations amongst who will need to be businesses, landlords, university staff, students, police, WNDC as well as the Borough and County Councils if it going to achieve what should be the aim of universal support.
I’m sure the University Board understand the implications of such a move and that they will have learned from other projects proposed in Northampton where a failure to communicate clearly and listen to people has led to at best confusion and delay, and at worst wholesale opposition.