Changing towns: Falmouth and Penryn's housing crisis - the facts
Almost one in ten Falmouth homes are now used solely for student accommodation, the Packet can exclusively reveal.
The latest available figures, released by Cornwall Council this week as the result of a Freedom of Information request, also show a 653 per cent rise in the number of student houses in Penryn between 1999 and last year.
Tremough university campus, on the outskirts of Penryn, was acquired by the then Falmouth College of Arts (now University College Falmouth) in 1999 and developed in partnership with the University of Exeter.
It has grown over the past 13 years to support an estimated 4,500 students, with an extra 800 expected to enrol by 2015, according to university forecasts.
Falmouth Town Council
"This is not about being anti-student, it is just about protecting the number of family homes that are available in the town."Town councillor Jenny Booth
When asked, Falmouth town councillors said they were unsurprised by the high proportion of student housing in the town and added that it highlighted the need for stricter controls on the spread of houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) lived in solely by students.
Councillor Oliver Cramp said: "I tried to do my own survey a couple of years ago and worked out it was around seven per cent, so I cannot say I am surprised - but this does highlight exactly why we need regulation.
"I believe students would also welcome regulation, it would ensure they have good standards of housing."
Chair of the planning committee, Diana Merrett, said the figures backed up what she has been saying for many years.
"We are frankly fed up with trying to tell people about the problems we are facing," she said. "Every time we work on this issue and seem to be getting somewhere, someone moved the goalposts and it's back to square one again - we need to be able to control these homes."
For councillor Jenny Booth, the key issue was to have the student housing mapped out in some way.
"At the moment there are just these student houses everywhere and no-one knows exactly where they are," she said.
"This is not about being anti-student, it is just about protecting the number of family homes that are available in the town."
One of the Cornwall councillors for Falmouth - Steve Eva - on the other hand, said he would expect the number of student properties to be about one in ten, given the number of students at Tremough campus combined with Woodlane (the much older and smaller campus near Falmouth Town railway station.)
He said: "Whether it's right or wrong, if you add up the students - making up a third of the population - then ten per cent of properties is probably what I would expect."
According to the register of interests held by Cornwall Council, Mr Eva is a self-employed carpet cleaner, who works in houses rented in the private sector.
He has confirmed that he would be unable to vote, if any vote were ever held while he holds that position, on regulations that could be introduced to control the spread of student housing.
Explosion in student housing
In 2000, 348 of the 9,606 dwellings in Falmouth paid no council tax because of a "Class N" exemption, meaning 3.6 per cent were occupied only by students.
By last year, that percentage had risen to nine per cent, or 932 properties in total.
As many as 764 homes have appeared in Falmouth since 2000, but because of the explosion in student housing only 180 non-student homes were effectively created in that time.
*And these figures don't account for houses where the majority, but not all, occupants are students - because a home only needs one non-student to lose its "Class N" status.
Penryn, meanwhile, has seen an even greater increase in tax exempt housing over the past decade, fuelled mostly by the growth of the campus on its western flank.
In 1999 there were just 34 student houses in Penryn, or 1.2 per cent of the total number of dwellings.
But by 2011 this number had skyrocketed to 222, or 6.56 per cent.
Councillor Mark Snowdon, chair of Penryn town council's planning committee, was unconcerned by the increase.
"To be honest I think 222 houses out of a population of maybe seven to eight thousand - I don't think that's extraordinary, personally," he said.
"We are most certainly not overrun with students [in Penryn], in fact I think the students we have in the town centre actually add to the community.
"We obviously know the campus is not going to get smaller and it's going to change over the next five to ten years as well.
"I think there might be more scope for student accommodation to be built at Tremough or near Tremough but I certainly don't want to see any development like they have at the station [the newly-built blocks of flats called "The Sidings"] where they have crammed in as many as they could, so to speak."
In a statement, a spokesperson for both Tremough universities said: "The University of Exeter and University College Falmouth are committed to easing the impact of their planned growth on houses of multiple occupancy in the traditional private rental sector.
"The universities have stated on a number of occasions that, as a fundamental part of their accommodation strategy, they are not looking to the private rented sector to accommodate future growth in student numbers.
"Instead, the institutions are seeking to encourage private developers to invest in the construction of professionally managed, off-campus accommodation such as The Sidings, which has 233 student bedrooms and will open at Station Road, Penryn, this autumn.
"The institutions have also invested substanially in further accommodation at the Tremough Campus, and an additional 224 bed spaces will be available at the start of the new academic year, bringing the total to just under 1500."
The universities made no mention in their statement of the 343 students expected to enrol by 2015 who will not be catered for by the additional bed spaces described.
In April 2010 changes were introduced to planning legislation by the previous government that would have required planning permission to be obtained for a house to be converted into a HMO. This decision was reversed by the current government in October of the same year.
As it stands, there are no controls on what houses can be converted to HMO's in Falmouth and Penryn, other than Cornwall Council's mandatory licensing system for properties that are:
- Three or more storeys high,
- Have five or more people in more than one household AND
- Share amenities such as bathrooms, toilets and cooking facilities.
Cornwall Council can only refuse to grant a licence if:
- The property does not meet certain standards of gas, electrical and fire safety
- The landlord is deemed to be "unfit" due to previous convictions or a poor track record OR
- A tenancy agreement has not been issued to all tenants
For the Skipper's view on this story, "Figures show true scale of student housing" click here.
UPDATE - (September 3) - The figures quoted in the table above have since been partly retracted by Cornwall Council.
For 2000 the total number of dwellings in Falmouth was 9497 and in Penryn it was 2838 - this error was due to a "double counting of a small number of properties" according to a spokeswoman for the council.
This does not affect the percentages or figures quoted in this article.