I’ve been meaning to write something about the public meeting last Wednesday about Edge Hill University.
Can I apoligise at the start for the length of this post and the rambling nature. This is basically my view of the meeting a couple of days after the event.
The meeting had been arranged by the Ormskirk Community Partnership and they had invited Steve Igoe the pro-vice chancellor of the Uni to address the meeting and discuss the University and town’s future together.
This is the first public meeting that I’ve been to in Ormskirk and it was good to see that the room was basically full.
I must say at the start the I think that the meeting was a lot more interesting than I expected and I was pleased to see such a range of people in the room. Most of whom were there because they have one or more problems with students and anti-social behaviour.
Before I stood for the County Council this year I had been aware of the problems experienced by the people along St Helens Road and Ruff Lane, but not around the rest of the town. It was only by knocking on doors around the town that I came to appreciate the range of problems and the number of people affected (and the county ward didn’t include Wigan Road, Thompson Avenue, St Helens Road, etc).
Coming into the meeting I was sceptical on two levels: firstly, that Steve Igoe would just talk for as long as possible and thus leave no time for questions (I’ve seen that one before!) and that the meeting itself would be overwhelmed by St Helens Road / Ruff Lane residents. That’s not to say that they don’t have a problem, but I was concerned that others might be drowned out by a group that have shown themselves to be well organised and articulate in the past.
Steve Igoe started out by talking a lot about how well the University was doing, it’s market position within the North West and its ambitions to grow further and to be recognised as one of the leading Universities in the region.
There was some considerable murmuring and eye-rolling from those sat near me.
Others got more animated when he moved to the development plans of the University – in particular moving the sports facilities into the green belt and using the freed up space for additional accomodation and car parking.
The Community Partnership had identified three areas of concerns: the growth of the university (and the effect on St Helens Road / Ruff Lane), the movement of students in the town and “pockets” of problems around the town. I was particularly unhappy about the last part, because I think that the quality of life issues for those living near students is going to be the main problem as the student population reaches into more areas in the town.
However, to give the public the credit, they didn’t stick to the suggested areas and basically let rip with their concerns about the
growth of the university and the behaviour of the students. In many ways Steve Igoe got an easy ride because he mainly just had to deal with people making statements about the problems they faced. When presented with a question, he dealt with the issues very well, as one would hope.
During the questions, the most interesting part for me was when the discussion moved to the proportion of students living in an area. It was stated that the proportion living in Ormskirk was around 10% while in parts of some city centres like Liverpool and Manchester it was more like 20%. The University view seemed to be that this was therefore a good thing, but it missed the point that the type of area is completely different in Ormskirk compared to a city centre.
The inappropriate level of students was underlined by a slide used by Steve Igoe himself, citing a North West Development Agency report that stated that an increased student population is good because they live in otherwise deserted parts of town
(perhaps the case in the city centres, but not Ormskirk).
The other concern amongst the public attending the meeting was a disbelief that extra accomodation on the campus itself would lead to an easing of pressure in the town itself. Quite reasonably they asked where would students live in the second and third years of their degrees.
For me, this wasn’t helped by Steve Igoe stating that the University wants to be seen as more than a University for teachers and nurses and that it is expanding the number of courses it does. If that’s the case, then we are likely to have more students who are studying at EHU throughout the academic year, compared to the current situation where, say, 60% are in work placements in schools or hospitals through much of the year.
And so the meeting went on… broken by a surreal moment when County Cllr Rob Bailey stood up, introduced himself and then proceeded to tell the assembled members of the public that there wasn’t actually a problem in Ormskirk and that there had only been a handful of complaints.
It was a real head-in-hands moment.
To try and give Cllr Bailey the benefit of the doubt, what I think (at least hope) he was saying was that if more people complained then it would be taken more seriously. However, his choice of words was manner was very poor and many people felt that he was basically calling them liars for complaining in the first place.
Quite reasonably there were shouts of “do you live in Ormskirk?” to which he just replied “no”… which is possibly the most reasonable thing he said. He could have said “no, I live the other side of Parbold”, but that would have been like a red rag to a bunch of already annoyed bulls. He stood up (which noone else did) and he also stated upstanding for a lot longer than was necessary – just to take a lot of flack.
He’s got a lot to learn.
My intervention wasn’t a classic. The question I really wanted to ask was about growth, which someone else asked right at the start. I made a statement along the lines of there being a problem across the town – which I felt needed making because I was concerned about a possible mis-reprensentation of the meeting, but by the end of the meeting it was quite clear that was the case anyway.
Having said all this, the Ormskirk Community Partnership should be congratulated for organising the meeting. If I have any criticism of it, it is that there didn’t seem to be a conclusion, a way forward. The University’s representative heard the concerns, but it felt like he would just go back and the Uni would carry on with their plans as if it hadn’t taken place.
I am one of those who wants EHU to succeed further and to build on the success it already has. However, I also want the residents to be able to enjoy living in a market town without the problems that come about with high numbers of students living in the area.
I have always said that it is the local Borough Council that has the ultimate responsibility in maintaining this balance, and it is a shame that no-one of authority from the Borough Council was at the meeting.
If anything, the meeting showed that the student population is now making it’s presence known across the town and that only a “whole town” solution to the problem will work. I think that’s a step forward.