Are Nottingham students being victimised?

Never mind rising tuitions fees, or the bleaker-than-ever job prospects: if hearsay were to believed, new to our list of socioeconomic maladies is a local council hell-bent on getting rid of us. In a controversial bid to increase revenue, Nottingham City council is now considering charging students £70 per year for parking permits (which are currently free) — while local residents are left unaffected.

Outcries came almost instantaneously. In a video address to students, Alex Corck-Adelman, President of the University of Nottingham’s Student Union, claimed, “This is outright discrimination. There is no way the council an argue otherwise. We were told we were going to be informed when the consultation period was. We haven’t been and we found out yesterday that it closes tomorrow, Friday.”

That Friday having been the 9th September, which conveniently enough, was during the summer holiday period, when most students were most likely not keeping up to date with university-related matters. The Students’ Unions of both our university and Nottingham Trent fortunately managed to mount a big enough last-minute campaign that led to the council extending the deadline for the consultation period to the end of this September. Nevertheless, as letters from fist-shakingly angry students are flooding our local council’s mailbox, serious questions are being raised as to kind of treatment we are facing in seemingly student-weary Nottingham: in short, are Nottingham students being victimised?

According to a poll conducted by our Students’ Union, 74% of students believe that it is unfair that only we should have to pay for parking permits. But isn’t it all too easy for students to spout ‘discrimination’ when our own Union makes proclamations as uninformed as “UNFAIR PARKING PERMIT CHARGES JUST FOR STUDENTS”?

I recently caught up with the leader of Nottingham City Council, Cllr Jon Collins, who made it clear to me that this “unfair” charge was not “just” intended for students. “We are introducing payments for properties which do not pay Council Tax, this includes student properties but also businesses”, he explained.

Fair enough. In all their haste to get students on board of their campaign, the Union was being a bit effusive. Still, why would the council decide to introduce a charge specifically for non-council-tax-paying groups and not residents?

The Union argues that, “This charge is being levied at students because the majority of students are full time and are therefore council tax exempt, the argument being used is that students should pay for parking. This is a redundant argument because Central Government subsidises the local authority for the equivalent of your council tax if you are exempt — the Government pay for you to access the services that established residents do through paying council tax.”

Yet, while acknowledging the unpopularity of this move, Cllr Collins explained to me that the current financial situation of Nottingham City Council essentially left them with few alternatives: “Last year the Government cut Nottingham City Council’s budget by £60m, this year by £22m, meaning we have to make tough decisions. We also have to make difficult decisions on parking such as introducing City Centre charges till 8pm in the evening and on Sundays. Therefore, sadly, we have to make hard choices to protect front line services such as Community Protection Officers, street cleaning and events such as Goose fair and Splendour.”

He went on to add that, “I believe we’re one of the only Councils in the country that doesn’t charge students for permits currently.”

And this isn’t the first time Nottingham students feel as if they are being discriminated against by our local council. Cast your minds back to earlier this year, in April, when the local council was consulting on changes to housing regulations that were going to significantly affect students — again, during the diaspora of the holiday period, when protests were going to be few. The bone of contention of that time, the Article 4 Direction, was going to be implemented to force landlords to seek building permission if they wanted to convert a single property into a house of multiple occupation (HMO). This would largely have an impact on the student demographic.

Teddy Smith, the then Accommodations and Community Officer of our Students’ Union, accused the council of discriminating against students by limiting their choices for accommodation, particularly by turning down HMO conversion plans in the student haven of Lenton. Though more than 1000 students signed a petition to oppose the Article 4 Direction, the council still went ahead with it and it is now set to be introduced on the 11th March 2012.

Interestingly, the whole debacle dated back to before the Coalition came into power, when the old Labour government tried to curtail the ‘studentification’ of residential areas by reclassifying HMOs as 2 or more households, thus forcing landlords to seek planning permission. The new Coalition government swiftly removed this legislation and instead, via Article 4 Direction, put local councils in charge of housing regulations.

I spoke to Cllr Sarah Piper of Lenton and Dunkirk and according to her, Nottingham is one of the last cities to introduce this change in housing regulations: “The Article 4 Directions were controversial with some students but it hasn’t yet been implemented and we are one of the last councils to proceed with it — if you Google it, you will see it has been implemented in every student city in the UK.”

Meanwhile, Cllr Collins was adamant that the Article 4 Direction would benefit students. “The issue of the Article 4 direction on housing is not about victimising students. We believe that giving the Council some powers to review properties becoming new student homes will allow us to consider the suitability of the property for students and stop bad landlords creating more substandard properties for students.”

Considering that Lenton is fairly notorious for rogue landlords and ramshackle, leaky-roofed housing, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But amidst constant clamours of discrimination, are relationships between students and councillors really as tense as the rhetoric of certain individuals would have us believe?

“Do you think there is a bad relationship between students and the council?”, Cllr Piper asked me. “I’m not sure there is or whether the idea of one is being manufactured to exert influence over financial and planning matters. Personally, Dave Trimble [also Councillor of Dunkirk and Lenton] and I get on with the Labour Club students very well and had several social events with them last year. I also enjoy speaking to students when canvassing and I’m hoping to come along to Freshers’ Fair to help the Labour Club later this month as well.”

And according to Cllr Collins, Nottingham City Council is and has been doing a lot to make students truly feel welcome. “I am always in support of improving the relationship between students and the Council. Only the other week I met members of both Nottingham and Nottingham Trent Universities Student Unions, and they are meetings I want to continue to happen. We’re also producing our new Student Survival Guide to inform students about what Nottingham and the City Council has to offer. We purposely put two bus routes through the University Campus and made sure Line one and now the extension of the Tram goes via the Universities, after student requests as well as introducing a one year unlimited bus pass for £179.”

So, unless Cllr Piper and Cllr Collins are just another pair of charmingly deceptive politicians, Nottingham City council might really not be trying to victimise us after all. But against a backdrop of social unrest, students can be a little forgiven for ‘feeling like the entire world is against us’. Nothing good can come out of acting with a sense of self-entitlement, however. Rather, to combat the current maelstrom of economic pessimism and anti-student sentiments, we students need to ask ourselves what we can do the benefit our local community. Perhaps by spending less time acting like the victims of society, and more time helping genuine victims (i.e. the homeless, poverty-stricken regions), we could truly learn some valuable lessons about privilege.

Eric John

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12 Comments on this post.
  • David S
    20 November 2011 at 14:02
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    What is the council’s response to the fact that students’ council tax is paid to Nottingham City by the central government?

    The vast majority of council tax exempt properties will be because they have students living there. This is therefore aimed squarely at students.

    So the council is short of money – why should students be singled out to pay for it? They’re doing it because they think they can get away with it.

    This article’s striving for “balance” is ridiculous. Show both sides of the argument, but if one is clearly rubbish then say so.

    If anything, students should be doing /less/ for the local community. The only thing that politicians care about is power. Students have the power to not volunteer locally, not donate to local charity, campaign against local politicians who do not represent students, etc. Only by having the ability to exercise that power will the councillors sit up and take notice. otherwise they’ll just talk about how they’re having meetings and handing out “survival guide” leaflets that we can all do without.

    Who are the Nottingham Action Group (NAG), and why are they funded by the council? Surely if the council wants to make a decision, they should make it themselves rather than funding another group to tell them to make it.

    This reeks of not taking responsibility.

    • Eric John
      20 November 2011 at 15:02
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      @David S: “If anything, students should be doing /less/ for the local community.”

      That is an awful thing to say. You’ve just given that age-old ‘entitled student’ stereotype a massive boost. The last thing we should be doing in the face of such challenges is LESS for the community; if anything, we should be doing MORE to prove to Nottingham City Council that we really want to be contributing members of this city. I have been in Nottingham for 3 years now and what has always startled me is the gaping, socioeconomic divide between what is largely a middle-class student body and a local community stricken with poor standards of state education, crime and poverty. Local councils across the nation have been grappling with budget cuts, and while it might seem unfair for them to make up for these cuts by introducing new charges for students, it would be even worse to attempt to take that money from local residents who can’t make ends meet and whose children are being sent to some of the worst schools in the country. We need to spend less time complaining and instead be thinking of solutions; we are all part of one society, and nothing good will come out of us trying to distance ourselves from it.

  • Dave J
    20 November 2011 at 18:40
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    Can’t say I’m with you on this one Eric – students already contribute quite a lot to Nottingham just by being there. Without the university – and the smart people that attend it – Nottingham would basically just be an East Midlands version of Wolverhampton. Except Wolverhampton is probably more welcoming to students.

    The council is doing it because they know that students, being a transitory group, either won’t be there, won’t remember or won’t care when the next elections come around. Students are poor at having real political impact, and it’s not like people have that much sympathy with them, so they’re an easy target.

    Labour councillors have good relations with Young Labour students shocker.

    It’s not the job of students to be an instrument of social policy, anyway. It’s actually rather patronising to suggest that they should be, or that being afforded the same privileges as local residents should be contingent on this. Thus the last paragraph isn’t particularly helpful.

    I know a fair few – myself included – who’d have much rather seen them ditch the goose fair and splendour ‘before’ they started herding students into ghettos, but then I’ve never been one for concerts. Or geese.

  • Local student
    20 November 2011 at 20:43
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    “Without the university – and the smart people that attend it” So are you going with the stereotype that all students are highly intelligent and all locals are under educated?

  • David S
    21 November 2011 at 01:53
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    @Eric John: “I have been in Nottingham for 3 years now and what has always startled me is the gaping, socioeconomic divide between what is largely a middle-class student body and a local community stricken with poor standards of state education, crime and poverty.”

    I just don’t see this (and I have been in Nottingham as an undergraduate and then a postgraduate for 7 years, if that makes a difference).

    Students starting in 2011 are predicted to have an average debt of £26,100, rising to £53,400 for those starting in 2012. Students are the ones living in cheap, low quality multiple occupancy housing. Lenton is the place with one of the highest crime rates in the country. Youth unemployment is more than 20%.

    That’s not to say that local residents aren’t having a hard time of it too. It’s hard for everyone right now. That’s why students shouldn’t be singled out.

    There’s a great tradition in the Labour movement of strike action. I want students to be involved in the community, but you also have to have the option to remind those in power what they’re missing when they try to take advantage.

  • Dave J
    21 November 2011 at 10:50
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    Yes Local Student, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Students are all brainbox paragons of virtue and the residents of Nottingham are all knuckledraggers.

    I don’t necessarily think that educated residents and the presence of an institute of higher education are mutually exclusive things. My point – which you’ve missed, so i’ll go over it again – is that without the university and all of the things that go with it, Nottigham really wouldn’t have that much going for it. It’d just be your standard dreary Midlands town – I should know, I’m from one.

  • Miss Scarlett
    21 November 2011 at 11:50
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    The Daves of this comments section speak the truth!!

    The council are singling out students because they know they can get away with it-its discrimination pure and simple. Though I do think Eric’s arguments have some merit…Its easy to see why the council will target students with cars because lets face it, if you have a car you probably have a decent amount of money- but that doesn’t make it right!

  • dan
    21 November 2011 at 13:29
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    Lol, Dave J is right in his last post but I think the idea that an out-of-town University with very little city-student interaction (bar getting a taxi and shitfaced) saves the city is a funny one.

  • Dave J
    21 November 2011 at 14:23
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    I’m curious as to the ‘little city-student interaction’. It’s Nottingham public transport they’re riding, Nottingham shops they’re spending money in and Nottingham pubs and bars where they’re becoming inebriated. Students may not all be reincarnations of Mother Teresa when it comes to community outreach, but they put fresh money into the city’s businesses.

    This is beside the point a little bit – the council can bank on the university’s continued existence (and its reputation, despite generally being regarded as ‘not as good as it once was’, will see many students continue to apply). This makes students an easy target for initiatives like this, as pointed out in previous comments.

    It’s not like there aren’t other threats to social cohesion in the city besides students – when my brother was mugged at syringe-point by a heroin addict on Lenton Boulevard a couple of years ago, it was nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that students lived nearby. On those nights that I’ve walked through Radford and felt threatened, it wasn’t students who were loitering and behaving in a threatening manner. Students can enhance social capital just as much as they can detract from it. You wouldn’t get away with what they’re doing to students if they were doing it, say, with old people, or disabled people, that’s for sure.

  • dan
    21 November 2011 at 16:58
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    Dave J,

    Having lived across the city for a while, I was amazed how few students knew Hockley except Market Bar and possibly Broadway or Mansfield Road area except The Orange Tree. The students trawls were fairly predictably. Must be linked to some students living in Beeston and the halls being on campus requiring a direct transit to the centre.

    Lenton certainly lacks a communal feel even amongst the students. Apart from Sainsbury and the Bag, there are no central hangouts. Nottingham is a odd city in many ways. There are numerous areas, maybe as high as 7 which were pretty terrible. Once beyond the Marcus Garvey centre for example, its different atmosphere.

    Students do add some social capital to the city, certainly life and energy (stuff like Twisted Hearts). Its quiet in summer. Social capital also cuts both ways though. Too much bonding capital leads to unawareness, ignorance and a lack of social cohesion. I’m not sure how much bridging capital there is between the students and the local community.

  • Kat
    21 November 2011 at 18:32
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    Interesting article and comments. But, last paragraph: students can be a little forgiven for ‘feeling like the entire world is against us’. Who are you quoting? Fair enough if I’ve missed this elsewhere in the article, but putting something in random quotation marks is a bit tabloid – other than that, nicely written!

  • Mick Hall
    21 June 2014 at 23:48
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    Anyone with a car here in Nottingham gets screwed by the Authorities the bloody lot of them wherever there is the slightest excuse. Tjhe Authorities are good at excuses be it the mouth of the government The Post or the speed cam shower or the parking gestapo. Oh and the robbing bus lane bullshitters. They are after car owners money or get you car owners off the road.
    That statement was versed to me by the highest authority at County Hall no less when he said it is Government policy to gert you off the road. That was 1998- the year before the speed cam. I’ll say no more only all car drivers are rich polluters ( Nottingham council hate us)

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