Belfast Telegraph

Revealed: plan to take students out of Belfast's Holyland

By Lindsay Fergus

First year university students in Northern Ireland could be forced to reside in university accommodation, under radical new plans to tackle the issue of student housing.

A new independent report recommends that the 7,000 first year full-time undergraduates who attend Queen’s University, the University of Ulster’s Belfast and Jordanstown campuses and the two teacher training colleges at Stranmillis and St Mary’s every year could be “compelled” to reside in “university provided/affiliated/approved accommodation”.

However, the Holyland and Wider University Area Strategic Study acknowledges such a move could be open to legal challenge.

Belfast City Council, the Department of Employment and Learning and the universities are to “prepare a brief for testing the legality of obliging first year university students to reside in university accommodation”.

It is just one of a series of recommendations in the 114-page report that has been two years in the making and came about following the ongoing issues impacting the Holyland area of south Belfast.

But both Queen’s and Ulster have little or no capacity in their purpose-built student accommodation. Queen’s has 2,200 places, which are almost full, while UU has 868 spaces at Jordanstown, with just 19% unoccupied.

There is also the issue of cost. Many students opt to rent accommodation in the private sector as it can be cheaper than the £90 the universities charge per week.

The report, commissioned by the council on behalf of a number of agencies, also sets out a long-term strategy to ‘reclaim’ the Holyland by encouraging a better mix of housing in the area and making it a more desirable place to live.

Councillor Pat McCarthy, chairman of the council’s health and environmental services committee, said the report would be a “blueprint” for driving positive change in the Holyland area and in transforming Belfast into a learning destination.

“The council and all the partners involved in this study are determined that this report won’t gather dust on a shelf,” he added.

Factfile

Report’s other conclusions:

  • the absence of a coherent policy on student housing has resulted in over-reliance on private rented sector,
  • more focused planning policy needed with regards to provision of purpose-built student accommodation.

Embattled residents welcome study

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Homeowners in Belfast’s student heartland say they are “optimistic” problems there can be solved if Stormont politicians act on a new report’s proposals.

The Holyland and University Area Strategic Study has called for the creation of a city-wide housing strategy and the provision of more purpose built student accommodation to help long-suffering residents ‘reclaim’ the area.

Liam Kielty, who has lived on Rugby Avenue for over 30 years, said noise pollution, crime, anti-social behaviour and traffic management were among the major issues facing householders.

“I am pleased that the report has finally been generated. I believe that providing bespoke student accommodation will help alleviate the numbers of students planted in the Holyland and prevent a Holyland II situation developing.”

Landlords have given a cautious welcome to the proposals for a management scheme. However, they say forcing students into halls of residence instead of private accommodation in the Holyland is impractical.

“The fact is students continue to choose to live in the Holyland and other areas in and around Queen’s University,” said property owner and manager Declan Boyle.

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