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Temple Meads expansion begs questions on student numbers

What impact will rising student numbers have on Bristol’s existing communities?

That’s the question posed by Bristol Live in an article (8 April 2023) marking the imminent start of construction at University of Bristol’s new satellite campus at Temple Meads. Bristol Live says the new development next to the railway station will bring 4,600 more students and 650 more staff to the city.

Much of the impact, it reports, will be felt in Bedminster and other areas in the south of the city that previously did not have large numbers of students in their midst—unlike areas such as Cotham, Redland and Clifton that are closer to UoB’s traditional base.

A public engagement event, including a Q & A session, is planned for Monday, 17 April, from 6-30pm to 8-30pm at Windmill Hill City Farm, BL reports.

It also quotes new UoB Vice-Chancellor Prof. Evelyn Welch: “We’re very alive to the fact that sometimes the city, the city council, gets worried—are there too many students in Bristol?”

Comment: The impacts in south Bristol, and the concerns of residents there, are likely to be different from those in the north Bristol districts near the UoB precinct. Here, the top issues are noise disturbance and poor waste management from student-occupied HMOs, though in the background residents are also worried about wider concerns such as the effect of increasing student numbers on housing costs for everyone. But one factor that may well unite communities both north and south is the stance taken by the city council, which under Mayor Marvin Rees seems to have swung behind university expansion because of the economic benefits to the city without making much attempt to mitigate the less desirable impacts on communities.

Bristol Live quotes Rees saying of the Temple Meads development: “This is a huge opportunity that we must, and cannot afford not to, take. It’s the regeneration of this whole St Philips Marsh area. It’s huge for the city.”

But elsewhere, in what will sound to many people like a shrug of the mayoral shoulders, BL reports Rees as saying: “… every solution comes with a potential downside for some people, so that’s just a universal truth we work with here …”

Many residents in north Bristol will feel that the city council could, and should, be doing a lot more to manage some of those downsides, such as noise, waste, and the over-population of residential streets with students who have been ill-prepared for life outside university halls.

We can at least credit VC Welch, who took the helm at UoB in September, for taking a more active approach to community engagement than her predecessors have done. Welch met local residents’ associations at two recent meetings, on 20 March and 3 April, held in a university lecture room on Woodlands Road. (Vice-Chancellor meets residents’ groups, says she’s listening.)

At both events, she confessed that the issues around student housing such as concentrations of HMOs, noise and waste, were new to her. Her previous experience was in London, which she said seemed to effortlessly absorb incomers in a way that only big cities can. But she stressed that she was listening and learning, and wanted the university and the community to work together.

A potential vehicle for such partnership is the proposed Civic University Agreement that UoB is drafting, together with the University of the West of England, City of Bristol College and Bristol City Council. This is intended to provide a “high-level framework” for future collaborations in research, adult learning, health and economic regeneration schemes—themes that in some places are already reflected in UoB’s plans for Temple Meads.

Residents’ associations (“the RAs”) in Clifton, Cotham and Redland think the CUA should go further and include a commitment by the universities and the city council to formally recognise that university expansion can have negative as well as positive consequences, and to agree ways to tackle them. The RAs have submitted proposals to the CUA drafters and await their response.

To read the submission, click here and view or download "CUA Submission".


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