SOME CRITICISMS OF THE NAG BY A MEMBER

I acknowledge that particular areas of Nottingham have been radically altered by 'studentification': I have lived in one such area. But ...

I want to remind people that this is the 'Nottingham Action Group on Houses in Multiple Occupation' and not 'Lenton, Dunkirk, etc. versus the students'.

It seems to me that:

  • First, the NAG, rather than being concerned with ALL HMOs in Nottingham and the bits of Nottingham which  are 'County', e.g. West Bridgford, does seem to have become obsessed with Dunkirk, Lenton and Beeston.

Yes, these areas have been transformed by imbalances in types of tenure and occupancy, and by anti-social behaviour of one kind or another. There is no denying that, and as I pass through these areas I have seen how the problem has grown over the past decade or so. I too have had my healthy massively affected by too many sleepless nights, too many days being pounded by the bass notes of unnecessarily loud music, screeching of TV sets, shouted voices. So, I can emphasise as well as sympathise with the residents who live in these neighbourhoods.

But ... such issues are not confined to Lenton, Dunkirk and Beeston. and neither are they confined to students.

  • Second, not all HMO residents are students or young professionals, and not all students or young professional live in HMOs.

Other areas have HMOs with occupants who are: economic migrants (people who come temporarily to find work, and the move on); immigrants (people who stay longer and may become permanent residents); asylum seekers (people running away from regimes that want to harm them, and who mostly want to go back once they can do so safely); and so on. People from all sorts of other backgrounds, all of whom, in extremis, can cause exactly the same problems as are caused by 'studentification'.

'HMO-ification' rather than 'studentification', with problems associated with attitudes that reject disciplined and mature consideration of the needs of other people.

  • Third, there is snobbery.

There is no polite way of putting this point. Despite coming from a typical middle-class background ad having a good school and university education; despite being well-spoken, articulate, intelligent, clean, tidy, quiet, and an owner-occupier with a paid-off mortgage, I was subjected to 'postcode snobbery' and the idea that, when it comes to 'studentification', certain areas, like Radford, Hyson Green, Birkin Patch, Sneinton, do not matter because they are already a mess anyway.

 

Thanks! Community-destroying anti-social behaviour and unwanted and radical changes hurt everyone at the receiving end regardless of social, or economic, or educational status. In my experience, so- called 'working class' areas are filled with many good, decent, hard-working people who just want to get on with their lives in the same way as people do who live in other, 'middle class' neighbourhoods. The difference is that the inevitable disruptive minority is larger and more difficult to deal with.

However - it is still a minority ruining things for the majority.

 

RESPONSE ON BEHALF OF THE NAG EXECUTIVE

Our correspondent is right to remind us that the issue we must focus on is Houses in Multiple Occupation, but I would contest that they are wrong to say that the group is obsessed by Dunkirk, Lenton and Beeston.

Far from it.

Although it is always good to see regular attendance at meeting from residents from the areas mentioned, the author may not realise that people from Radford, Forest Fields, West Bridgford, and the City Centre to name a few other areas also come regularly to NAG meetings.

Of course both Beeston and West Bridgford are ‘in the County’, being outside the City Boundary – and thus the sort of services that the NAG often lobbies to get improvements in are not provided by the City Council. So that makes engagement with their local councils just that bit more complex. However, an objective of the NAG is to help any resident, in any area, lobby their respective council and councillors to improve the services they receive when it comes to tackling the problems they face.

And it is certainly not just students who are the causes of the problems many people face when their neighbourhood becomes imbalanced by HMOs. And of course there are students who cause no problems at all. The NAG is often the first to point this out when policy makers and officials seem to confuse a ‘neighbourhood issue’ with what they see as a ‘student issue’.

As the correspondent points out, you can be just as much a victim of problems from so-called ‘young professionals’ or 'migrant workers', or indeed any other group. This is because at its heart the problems are related to HMOs. We firmly believe this is because homes built for one purpose (in broad terms occupancy by families of varying sizes, or people living together as a family), are being used for a purpose that they were not designed for. If a small number of such homes on a street are used as HMOs, whilst not ideal, evidence suggests that it is perhaps a manageable situation. However, it is when imbalance sets in that the problems become much greater than the sum of their parts.

Whilst different types of people might behave badly and have a negative impact on their neighbourhood that sort of problem is of course not confined to HMO dwellers. But HMOs bring transience, and transience is at the heart of the problem, and transience seems to be inherently linked to shared accommodation. Too many HMOs create too much transience and that undermines the foundation of a community.

As one of our other members told the local press around the time when the NAG first started: "It's density, density density". A phrase well worth remembering, and one that have been used time and again on many different occasions.

So the Nottingham Action Group has worked hard to win the argument that concentrations of HMOs are the problem. We have had some successes too:

  •  The Article 4 Direction means that it is now necessary to apply for planning permission before converting a house to an HMO applies in every neighbourhood within the city boundary – whatever the nature of the neighbourhood or the social class of its residents. And we know applications to convert houses to HMOs on former council estates like Clifton, for example, have been the subject of local debate;
  • The new rules to restrict letting boards in order to improve the look of neighbourhoods apply in the Arboretum and the part of Radford off Forest Road – very different areas from Dunkirk and Lenton
  • The proposed area of additional HMO licensing that the NAG has argued for covers a large part  of inner Nottingham, including Hyson Green, Forest Fields, Sneinton, and The Meadows. These are areas where there have been problems (for tenants as well as other residents) with HMOs occupied by migrant workers, for example, and NAG very strongly supports the inclusion of these neighbourhoods in the proposed scheme.

As our correspondent points out, lots of different neighbourhoods, in different parts of Nottingham, with different characters, types of resident, and differing culture, have suffered from the impact of unregulated expansion in the numbers of HMOs.

Individual residents and Residents' Associations members from anywhere in the city are welcome at NAG meetings. Moreover we hope that the resources and information the NAG makes available is of help to people wherever they live.

[To Be Published in TransNAG,  2013]