©2003

National Organisation of Residents Associations

 
 
 

LEEDS HMO LOBBY (Headingley)

 
 

Chairman: Richard Tyler

website: http://hmolobby.org.uk/leeds/index.htm

 
 

Headingley is famous around the world for its sporting associations (like Wimbledon and Wembley). Nationally, it is renowned, not only for cricket, but also for rugby. Locally, in Leeds, it was long admired as a socially diverse suburb. But in the summer of 2003, a councillor from elsewhere in the city said ‘The awful warning of Headingley is always before us’ (Cllr Peter Harrand, Yorkshire Evening Post, 5 June 2003).

What went wrong?
How has Headingley's local reputation plummeted so low? In short, the expansion of higher education has happened. The experience of Headingley is a classic instance of admirable intentions entailing disastrous consequences.

Headingley began life as a village in the vicinity of Leeds. As the town expanded, the village became an attractive suburb to live in, and the first omnibus in the city ran to Leeds' ‘Number One Suburb’ (the number 1 bus still runs through Headingley). The architecture of the area bears witness to its history. Old field patterns survive in the street plans. Victorian mansions survey Airedale from Headingley Hill. Below, ranks of terraces march up the slopes. Between, interwar semis now fill the grounds of many a mansion. (We also have our share of modern monstrosities.) Woodhouse Moor, once a wilderness, and the site of a Civil War battle, is now a suburban park.

The diversity of the environment was matched by the diversity of the culture. Working class communities lived beside the chattering academic classes, young professionals beside arrivals from the Indian sub-continent, among them all lived students from the university down the road. All this has changed.

Who caused the changes?
(1) The government set an ambitious (and admirable) target of 50% uptake of higher education. But they gave no thought to the implications.
(2) The HEIs (higher education institutions) expanded rapidly. The student population of Leeds has more than doubled in the last decade, and outside London, is second only to Birmingham. But the two universities in Leeds have had no strategy for housing their students.
(3) The PRS (private rented sector), like flies in a farmyard, has seized on the expanding student market. Property agencies have increased from eight to forty.
(4) LCC (Leeds City Council) has only belatedly recognised the implications for the city of what was happening. Efforts are now being made, but the local authority's powers are limited.
(5) So we return to the government, which has neither funded the universities adequately to manage their expansion, nor given local authorities sufficient housing and planning powers to cope with the consequences.

What has happened in Headingley?
We lie at the heart of the north-west segment of Leeds, with the universities at its point. The A660 runs like an artery down the middle. To accommodate its students, the University of Leeds has developed halls of residence along this route. Students moving out have settled along the same arterial corridor.

The result is a massive expansion of PRS student housing in Headingley. At the beginning of the 90s, students comprised about 20% of the population. By the end of the decade, this had exploded to 50%. The result is that the neighbourhood is now dominated by a population which is young (late teens/early twenties), seasonal (here for only two-thirds of the year) and transient (moving every year, leaving after three). The key problem therefore is the demographic imbalance of Headingley.

This has two major effects, a ‘double whammy’. On the one hand, a whole range of problems arise, in our society, our environment and our economy, as direct and indirect results of this imbalance.

The three key issues are Crime, Squalor and a Resort Economy. The burglary rate is the highest in the country; and noise, damage and evacuation are endemic. Headingley has the worst refuse problem in the city; and streets are blighted by neglected properties and derelict gardens, letting boards and security grilles.

 
  Rubbish dump No room  
 



Pubs, take-aways and convenience foods dominate the shopping centre; and family shops struggle to survive the seasonal market. The farmyard ethos imposes disproportionate demands on service providers (policing, cleansing, planning, housing). Such problems are usually tackled, not by government, but by the local community. (If the state has to intervene, you really are in trouble.) But the imbalance undermines the sustainability of the community. We suffer Negative Migration, Absenteeism and Community Decline. Residents who leave are not replaced by newcomers (they can't afford house prices inflated by the letting market). Increasingly, the neighbourhood is owned and occupied by people who don't live here, disempowering residents. The experience of the old is marginalised, there are fewer activists, the numbers of children (our future) decrease. Closure of schools (heart of any community) is a symptom of the crisis.

These problems in Leeds, and in other towns like Nottingham, have caught the attention of the national press, including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times and The Telegraph. Nevertheless, the community has responded. Long-established residents associations, like South Headingley Community Association and North Hyde Park Neighbourhood Association, have taken the new problems on board. In the 1990s, new associations were founded, like HEAL (Headingley Against Landlordism) and Headingley Network. Since then, local streets have set up their own defensive groups (like The Turnways and St Chad's), and organisations in neighbouring communities have joined the fray (Woodhouse, Kirkstall, Meanwood).

In 2000, these came together to establish Leeds HMO Lobby, to co-ordinate action on our common problems. Our focus is on the mechanism which permits the key problem (demographic imbalance), that is, the accommodation of students in shared houses, or houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

The Lobby's strategy is twofold.

Nationally, we take every opportunity to lobby the government for new legislation: we want a clear and comprehensive definition of HMO, we want them to be licensed, and we want them subject to planning control. In doing so, we have found allies around the country who share our concern with HMOs, not only in university towns, but for other reasons elsewhere too. The Draft Housing Bill of 2003 provided our first real step forward. In the 2003-4 session, this is making its way through Parliament.

Locally, we press LCC and the universities to address the issue of student housing in Leeds. We want to discourage student accommodation in Headingley and its neighbouring communities, and encourage it elsewhere in the city. In response to pressure from the Lobby and its members, the Council has published a Report on Shared Housing, it has adopted an Action Plan, and it has established a Student Housing Project Group (on which all stakeholders are represented) to oversee the implementation of the Plan.

Now, we aim to exploit every opportunity offered by present and future legislation. Details of our work are provided on our website at http://healheadingley.org.uk/hmolobby/. The pages about the Lobby itself outline our composition and history. Those on ‘Local Action’ show what we have done in Leeds. And those on ‘National Action’ record our lobbying nationally.

If you share our problems, join us! Email us at hmolobby@hotmail.com or write to us, care of the Cardigan Centre, 145 Cardigan Road, Leeds LS6 1LJ.