British cities are moving to reduce the impact of “studentification”

Those were the days: the cast of The Young Ones, c1982. Image: BBC.

The tension between town and gown is as old as the existence of universities themselves. The appropriately named St Scholastica’s Day Riot of 1355 was an actual battle between the students of the University of Oxford and the residents of the town. It broke out over the quality of some wine, and only ended when almost a hundred were dead.

Nowadays, the tension may be less deadly, but it remains, nonetheless. The total number of students in Britain has shot up 400,000 in the last 17 years – and they all need somewhere to live.

The grottiness of student life has been almost mythologised, with all the noise, rubbish and midweek parties that spill out into the street. The growth of the student population can even affect the very fabric of an area as the local economy starts to cater to their needs (more student bars, fewer primary schools). Local families are priced out as landlords see the benefits of buy-to-lets for students.

In true modern fashion we’ve even come up with a neologism, to help us get our head around this phenomenon. We call it “studentification”.

At the root of all this is Houses in Multiple Occupation, or HMOs. Defined as houses where at least three tenants live, they are perfect place for young professionals and students to live for a few years.


In the vast majority of UK cities between half and three quarters of students live in HMOs or similar types of accommodation. Usually focused on areas close to universities, the concentration of student HMOs in certain areas has led to them derogatorily being called ‘student ghettos’.

By way of example: student accommodation now makes up 75 per cent of the Green Lane area of Durham, two-thirds of Headingley in Leeds and as high as 90 per cent in certain areas of Nottingham. The remaining permanent residents have to put up with all the chaos of student life, as well as neighbours who change on a yearly basis.

Studentification can have political repercussions, too. In last year’s General Election, the constituency of Canterbury voted Labour for the first time in 100 years. Many attributed this to the student vote.

Local government is taking steps to combat the massive change student concentration cause. Councils have sought extra powers to limit the numbers of HMOs in Oxford, Durham, Nottingham, Birmingham, Worcester and Leeds. In Exeter, the City Council has set a target that 75 per cent of all increases in the student population should be housed in what is known as Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) – more colloquially, halls of residence.

PBSAs do combat the effect of students living in HMOs, but can’t resolve the ‘ghetto’ effect of concentrated student areas. The disruption to local communities can only be resolved by city planners working with PBSA providers to figure out the best place to build new student accommodation.

Students can bring great advantages to an area: an increased range of goods and services, development of social/cultural spaces and a vibrant population. But these need to be harnessed and planned for. If ex-industrial land and other brownfield sites were to be used for PBSA developments they could be part of the revitalisation of the area.

Otherwise, students will spill out into the private HMO sector which, left unchecked, can seriously damage local communities. And we don’t want another St Scholastica’s Day Riot on our hands, do we?

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.