Councillors turn down plan for 4,000 homes for students

Sussex University now has 13,000 students
Sussex University now has 13,000 students

When Sussex University sought permission for 4,000 homes, there was first-class confusion.

When Sussex University asked planners for permission to build 4,000 homes on its Falmer campus, there was a first-class degree of confusion.

Officials at Brighton and Hove City Council recommended approving the plans, which involved demolishing about 1,500 student flats on the campus to make way for the new buildings.

If approved, the proposals would also have meant replacing some academic facilities and building a new life sciences centre on the campus.

There were also plans for a new road for cars and delivery vehicles, with Refectory Road becoming a route for cyclists and pedestrians.

But councillors said: "No." And the reasons they gave made little sense to some onlookers.

The university intends to grow by 4,600 students over the next four years. It wanted to house most of those students on its ampus. This would, among other things, have meant that those students were not renting homes on nearby estates.

Some campaigners, nevertheless, asked where the extra students would go, insisting they would put extra pressure on the local housing stock.

The university suggested that about one in five of its extra students would come from the local area or not need housing and Allan Spencer, its finance director, even said in answer to one question: "Refusing this application will put more pressure on local accommodation."

Nobody seemed to grasp that the students will be coming anyway. They will now have to compete with local people for somewhere to live.

And, as so many of them will now have to live off campus, they will add to the pressure on local roads and bus services.

The old student flats already on the campus would have been knocked down to make way for new bedsits. So those who choose a campus home will stay in tired old buildings.

And classrooms - described by Councillor Leo Littman, a planning committee member who went to Sussex University, as past their sell-by date even back in his day - will not now be replaced with 21st-century facilities.

Councillor Les Hamilton pointed out that students were exempt from paying council tax and this costs the council millions of pounds a year.

Now, students who would have lived on campus are likely to live in houses and flats that currently yield council tax.

This will further reduce the council's income.

The formal reasons for rejecting the university's proposals included the loss of more than 400 trees, although many new trees have already been planted to compensate for those which would have been for the chop.

The university has not yet decided whether to appeal, resubmit its plans, or rethink them.

After a meeting regarded by some as a qualified failure, an appeal might seem the most rational option.

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