NGS Thinks...

March 2017 – The other sides of the student accommodation debate

An unprecedented amount of construction of one type of building has taken place around Glasgow recently: 4800 dedicated places for students, with another 3800 currently under construction. These figures come from a piece in the Evening Times which caught our attention, and forms a welcome nuance to a debate which has become more popular and vigorous as these developments have become more ubiquitous, and the scale of development across the city more obvious.

There is an undeniable argument that this significant change to the cityscape should have been foreseen, considered and subject to public oversight. There are questions that need to be addressed around what happens if and when the further education landscape alters – not all of these buildings can be easily converted into hotels, as has been claimed by some developers. But Glasgow needs students, and students need to live somewhere.

It is often overlooked in this debate that the use of tenement housing – the traditional domain of the student – has changed hugely in the last decade or two. Multiple Occupation Licences have been reduced, and tenements have frequently returned to their original purpose of housing young families. It’s also worth considering that certain areas of the city (around Kelvin Hall, for example) previously almost abandoned by pedestrian traffic, are now bustling at most hours of the day, with the benefits to local trade, culture and general vibrancy that that brings.

Also, our higher education institutions are expanding, and embracing the globalised present. So far, the debate (in print, at least) has not descended to an insular level, but reactively demonising an expanding student population which is often visibly foreign is something to be very wary of indeed.

We say: of course, there’s a case for considering the implications of such a significant change to Glasgow’s built environment. But Glasgow’s character is not a fixed thing, and never will be. Let’s see the whole picture, consider the context, and weigh up the long-term benefits against the short-term impact.