Influx of thousands of students 'could lead to big increase in homelessness' in Milton Keynes

Conniburrow, Milton Keynes
Conniburrow, Milton Keynes

Homelessness is set to increase in Milton Keynes when students start attending courses at a planned new city centre university, a meeting heard.

A council officer said action is needed now on the issue of the supply of cheap private sector accommodation, which is currently used to house more than 600 families in temporary accommodation.

The fear is that thousands of students at the new MK:U from 2023, plus growth the University of Bedfordshire’s MK operations, could compete for and take housing that the council currently uses for people in homeless crisis situations.

“It will affect properties we want to use for people in temporary accommodation,” said Jane Harrison, Milton Keynes Council’s private sector housing manager at a meeting on Wednesday.

“There are a lot of challenges around the private sector,” she told the Community and Housing Scrutiny Committee.

“The new university and businesses coming into the town will increase the demand significantly for cheaper accommodation.

“It’s around the corner we have to think about how to deal with it now.”

The first students could arrive in 2023 if the new technology focused university gets the go-ahead.

The council is looking to update its private sector housing policies as part of a more general overhaul of its approach to housing.

Councillors are likely to have to grapple the thorny subject of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HiMO), where some are licensed by the council, some are not. And there are even cases of licensed HiMOs not having planning permission, the meeting heard.

Many councils, unlike in MK, do not require HiMOs to have planning permission which covers issues like parking spaces. The meeting heard that this policy would need examination if the council were to encourage the creation of more HiMOs.

Jane Harrison’s report said: “Whilst the university is planning to house most first year students in purpose built halls of residence, there may be a shortfall of external accommodation for second and third year students from 2025.

“Annual student admissions will reach peak levels of approximately 10,000 but this level will be phased in over a number of years. In addition, the University Campus Milton Keynes (UCMK) in Central Milton Keynes estimates that after five years there will be a requirement for around 300 residential places which they will meet by contracting with specialist providers.”

The proposed strategy says that most HiMOs in Milton Keynes are found in the central neighbourhoods of Conniburrow and Fishermead.

But the council’s planning department considers that Central Milton Keynes is “now saturated with HiMOs” and there is unlikely to be consent for any more to provide for the influx of students from the new university in that area.

The report adds: “This will pose a significant challenge as students will not want to be on the periphery of the city.”

But Cllr Martin Petchey (Lab, Stantonbury) said: “I am a resident of Fishermead. I don’t want to live in an area that becomes empty all summer.

“We should encourage the building of university accommodation outside the university. But I think student accommodation is a racket, with high deposits and high rents.

“The policy should be to encourage people to build non-campus student accommodation.”

Cllr Jenni Ferrans (Lib Dem, Monkston), who chairs the committee, said there needed to be more discussions with the council’s planning department.