Housing a university

Mr Tomlinson seem rather poorly informed about his own council’s plans for the town centre. The University of the West of England has long-term plans for a campus of up to 10,000 students in Swindon. Those plans are very long term according to the university’s Mr Rushforth, quoted in the Adver.

Ideally we would like to see some headway on [a town centre site] within the next year. Obviously within such a short time period that would be in the form of something like a drop-in centre. It would take around three to four years before we could open the site, and we would be looking at around 1,000 students to begin with, rising to five or six thousand. Given our ambitions we would hope over a 20-year or so period to get something like 10,000 students.

Assuming some of those students are local, it would be an equally long time before there would need to be overspill from a North Star campus, which Swindon Borough Council’s Central Area Action Plan estimates could provide a campus for 7,000. At the alternative site near Coate there’s even more space. Even if the estimate for North Star is rather generous, which it seems to be, so are most universities’ estimates of their own growth potential. The University of the West of England’s ambitions correspond to it growing by 33% from its current 30,000 students — not much evidence of modest predictions there.

So why is Mr Tomlinson worrying about the effect a university might have on housing?

I am concerned about affordable accommodation being hoovered up by landlords wanting to attract students. One of the things that makes Swindon attractive… is the cost of housing and I am worried about the effect a university would have on that, and whether we would see businesses leaving Swindon. If they could build a campus for 10,000 students I would have less concern.

That looks like a bad case of compassionate ignorance to me. Being concerned for the socially disadvantaged may be a virtue; ignorance of the plans of an administration that he was, until the end of last week, a member, is not.