Monday, 16 March 2015

Will Beeston councillors be the architects of their own demise?

Just over two weeks ago (25 February 2015) I posted a blog about the distribution and location of council tax exempt properties in Broxtowe Borough Council area ( At the same time I posted a separate page of tables showing the properties street by street across the Borough (which you can still see in the column to the right of this text).

I said that I would return to the topic. I have already said that local councillors and the Council are in danger of 'sleepwalking' into a situation whereby they wake up one morning and find that they have lost the majority of Beeston's housing stock to student housing.

Having lived in Lenton for thirty-five years (1979–2014) and been actively involved in the local community I have, right now, a real sense of déjà vu. Already, a few local councillors have said to me 'There isn't a problem' or 'There is nothing we can do about it'. To be fair, some councillors recognise that there is a potential problem, but are unsure of how to address the problem.

As at February 2015, there are 519 council tax exempt properties with Beeston addresses and 'To let' signs are becoming permanent fixtures around the town, as witnessed by the four signs I photographed on Broadgate this morning.

For now I just want to say a quick word about houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). Only 55 of the 519 council tax exempt properties in Beeston are HMOs, which seems a very low number. There is a myth in the minds of local councillors, seemingly given substance by council officers, that for a house to be a HMO it has to have at least five unrelated occupants and cover at least three floors. Not so. Nottingham requires all properties with three or more unrelated occupants to be registered as HMOs and Broxtowe Borough Council could do the same. It is a topic I intend to write about in a future post. Just click on the following link to learn more about HMOs in Nottingham.

There are now numerous studies about the student housing market in and around Nottingham, including Beeston. Here is a link to a UNIPOL report from 2008 at:

The uncontrolled growth of student properties in Lenton spawned the Nottingham Action Group, better known to many as 'NAG'. It was much more vocal and single-minded than the Dunkirk and Lenton Partnership Forum, which was founded in 1996 by local individuals and groups to try and address local concerns about a wide range of issues, including the growth of students lets. I was one of the founders and the Forum's first Chair, later doing a second stint. Our 'softly softly' approach, trying to reason with Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University did not work and with the arrival of NAG, who took a far tougher line, the city council was slowly beaten into submission. NAG's strident approach was not one I was happy with, but they were, eventually, successful, but by then it was too late. Lenton was as good as lost. A few of us hung on in the hope that things could be turned around. In the end, Susan and I made the painful decision to leave Lenton and find a smaller house in Beeston. It took thirteen months and was a traumatic experience.

If Beeston's councillors and Broxtowe Borough Council continue to be complacent about the impact student housing is having they will be the architects of their own demise.

It probably won't be an issue in this year's Borough election, but in 2019, in the absence of action to address the problem, it will be an issue. It might though be an issue in the 2017 Nottinghamshire County Councl election.

You may wonder why the photograph of the Humber Road street sign? The answer is that 43% of the properties on the road are already council tax exempt. Other roads are running it close, as you can discover for yourself from my street by street list opposite.

Landlords and students like to cluster together and as they take over a street, so the families and older residents begin to sell up and move out, happy to sell to the next private landlord who wants a slice of the action.

My map starkly shows the streets in Beeston already lost or in the process of being taken over. The Beeston Fields Estate is prime territory for student housing. Many of the houses have large back gardens making it easy for houses to be extended and the number of rooms increased.

Students will impact on local shops and it is easy to imagine a '30 week economy' developing. For the best part of 20 weeks every year the houses stand empty and this change the nature of Beeston shops and shopping. Compared to what is happening to Beeston's housing stock right now, the tram only acts as a diversion.

I believe in 'balanced communities', made up of all kinds of folk. Too many councillors and the Borough Council mouth the phrase with little intent — they see it as something they have to say, but if old folk want to live in their own urban villages and the rich in gated communities, then so be it. If and when you adopt this attitude, it is easy to surrender streets to private landlords.

Again if you doubt me, walk up and down Beeston High Road looking in estate agents' windows and you will find plenty of properties for sale, described as a 'investment opportunity'.

For my part, I believe housing too important not to managed in the interests of local communities and I see no place for private landlords whatsoever. I am in favour of municipal housing, managed and controlled by local councils. The growth of housing associations can be linked with the demise of council housing across England and these 'not-for-profit' housing companies, often based many miles away, are a poor substitute.

I spent twenty-one years as a manager of charitable housing, first in the Midlands, then nationally. In truth, my work involved offering second-best solutions to very local problems, which local councils could have managed better had they not been stripped of their housing stocks and budgets by Thatcher and it is to Labour's shame they did nothing during their thirteen years in power to address the chronic housing shortage which has existed in England for decades.

Even when they had the opportunity to pour billions into housing after the 2008 crash (and saving jobs and empowering local authorities in the process), Brown and Darling chose to give the money to the banks instead.

What is happening in Beeston right now is part of the same mindset. The evidence is there for all to see.

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