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Could university expansion make our noise problems worse?

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

COMMENT: Student noise has become more of a problem in recent years as the University of Bristol has increased its intake. More students, more noise. With the university planning further big expansions, what are the chances things might get worse?

This question breaks down into two more: how many more students will there be, and where will they live?

The first sounds simple enough, but recent correspondence I’ve had with UoB raises some doubt. A key council document anticipates UoB’s growth will require 6,400 extra “bed spaces” by 2028. But Prof. Guy Orpen, the deputy vice-chancellor who leads for UoB on its expansion plan, says in a letter to me they are aiming to grow to 30,000 students, and expect to be at 26,000 this year—in other words, implying an increase of about 4,000 from now.

Prof. Orpen states that the council’s figure relates to both UoB and the University of the West of England. But that isn’t what the council document says. (I am looking into this further to try to get some clarity.)

The numbers are important. UoB’s published plans for a new satellite campus at Temple Meads envisage that the site will provide teaching space for about 3,000 students. More than 900 will be accommodated on-site, and the rest at new multi-storey blocks in the city centre and elsewhere. This is "purpose-built student accommodation" (PBSA), now springing up in university towns across the country.

On either estimate of future student numbers, the council’s or UoB’s, it’s evident that a significant number of additional students will not be taught at Temple Meads, but instead will attend classes and lectures either at the main campus in Tyndall Avenue or elsewhere. What are the chances that many of these students will prefer to live in traditional HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation) in Redland, Cotham and Clifton, rather than PBSA?

Indeed, what guarantees can the university give that students at its new Temple Meads site will take the offer of PBSA over HMOs—possibly new HMOs created in residential areas near Temple Meads that currently have relatively few?

My reading of Prof. Orpen’s reply is that, while the university and the commercial providers of PBSA naturally hope it will find favour with students, this is not something they can guarantee. That could open the door to more HMOs. The city council is trying to bring in new rules to limit the spread of HMOs, but they have yet to be agreed—and even when they are, the result will be to restrict, rather than ban, new HMO conversions.

One positive piece of information that emerges from the correspondence is that most of UoB’s planned expansion will focus on increasing postgraduate numbers. Noise incidents generally involve undergraduates, particularly second-years.

— The correspondence links again: my letter, and Prof. Orpen's reply.

— If you have comments or questions on this article, please email me at If you'd like your comments to be published, please make that clear.



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