FELIX

"Keep the Cat Free"
24/04/14

Anger over new halls

Students angrily denounce College plans for halls in North Acton. Union sets out five requests of College. Distance and price highlighted as main problems with the halls. Likely to be replacement to Evelyn Gardens. Probable closure of Garden hall.
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walkway 2.jpg
The Sherfield Walkway, showing the #AgainstActon posters
- Credit: Aemun Reza

Imperial College London is planning to build a large hall of residence in North Acton that will potentially replace halls that are cheaper and located far closer to the South Kensington Campus. The North Acton Halls could be used as a replacement for Garden Halls and the halls in Evelyn Gardens, both of which are in South Kensington. The plans have been controversial amongst the student body and have already been denounced. Students have highlighted distance, cost, student experience, and welfare concerns. The Union have launched a campaigned against the plans, using the Twitter hashtag #AgainstActon. Already many students have voiced their opposition in a rare turn of student activism at Imperial.

The College Council (who are the highest decision making body of Imperial) publically announced on Monday 18 February that it had decided to authorise purchase of the land for the new development, with building work planned to begin in May 2013 and finish before the start of the 2015-2016 academic year. The halls would be located on 1 Victoria Road, Acton, W3 6BL, house 724 students, and will have student facilities that are twice the size of the JCR and SCR combined. To discover how far along the way the plans are Felix contacted Simon Harding-Roots, the Chief Operations Officer of Imperial College London, who said that the land has been bought and relevant documents exchanged. At 10am on Tuesday 19 February Imperial College Union launched the campaign to oppose the decision. The Union have now delivered a response to College, which was passed unanimously by Union Council, and have started putting up posters around campus.

During the meetings discussing the plans, Paul Beaumont, Union President, actively opposed the plans. He told Felix: “We [the Union] believe we’ve already won the quantitative argument against College Management with our analysis of the proposed prices and student accommodation survey data; all we now need is the help of students to assure the qualitative data”. His concerns and analysis seem to have not been taken on board. The Union appear to not be the only ones who are not entirely satisfied. Michael Bluck, Chairman of the Wardens Committee indicated the Wardens’ worry. He said that the “Committee expressed its concern, given that very recent experience of UG accommodation in similar sites had been negative, largely on the grounds of travel time and separation from the support and social provisions based at the SK campus”.

 

walkway.jpg
A #AgainstActon poster that has been put up -

The North Acton halls will be two minutes away from North Acton tube station in a well lit area, with the tube station winning “Tube Station of the Year”. College estimated in their announcement that it will take around 30 minutes by tube to South Kensington. This has been criticised for not taking into account the door-to-door travel time. It has been argued that with the walk from South Kensington and congestion added, the journey could take 45 minutes either way. The Union estimated the journey as 35-40 minutes. Harding-Roots acknowledged that it would be a tube ride every day, but said that busses to and from the Union were something that they were working out. Of the distance issue, Harding-Roots said: “We need a dose of reality”, and that it “would be great to have them in Kensington & Chelsea or Hammersmith & Fulham, but [it is] not affordable”. He said that people need to be “realistic” and that “W3 ticks most of the boxes”. The Union disagrees with this evaluation suggesting Hammersmith, Fulham and other such areas would be more appropriate, as well as highlighting that the Evelyn Gardens and Garden Hall also tick the correct boxes. Harding-Roots said that the location was “frankly one area we couldn’t fill”, and that they “looked at major new redevelopment projects in Earl’s Court and Hammersmith”. He said: “Earl’s Court would have been fantastic” and that the development plan of the area “used to include student accommodation… but not any more”. He said that there were “some student accommodation options in Hammersmith” but rents would have been around £200 per week. Discussing the halls and location in the announcement on the College’s website, Jane Neary, Director of Campus (formerly Commercial) Services, said: “No stone has been left unturned in the search to identify opportunities for student accommodation. Numerous other developments have been considered, including projects in Fulham, Hammersmith and Ealing. These were rejected however because they were either too expensive, too far from Imperial campuses or they couldn’t achieve the critical mass to create a vibrant student community of at least 400 bed spaces in one location.” The validity of the 400 figure and where it is from has been questioned. Felix contacted Jane Neary with questions about the halls, but, at the time of going to print, she is yet to reply.

The distance has been highlighted as a problem for the student experience. Having to travel in such a long distance could reduce students’ ability to participate in Clubs and Societies as well as reducing the sense of community that they feel with course-mates who live closer to the College. In a Union website blog post Becky Lane, Deputy President (Welfare), pointed out how “in 2015, there will be 700 students who may not engage with South Kensington based services such as Ethos gym, the Disability Advisory Service, the Counselling Service and the Health Centre”. As well as this, the Union question the “business case”, stating that prices would be above that of private accommodation in the same area and closer to South Kensington. They also noted that the “only applicable evidence is unfavourable – that a nearby University of the Arts (UAL) hall isn’t full”. At Imperial once a room is offered you must either take it or find private accommodation.

 

master plan plan.jpg
Master plan for North Acton Halls -

The price of the halls has been an issue that the Union has raised. Harding-Roots said that “affordable rents” were the “main focus”. He said that College needed a “balanced portfolio, including lower band rooms, which are under £150 per week. He went on to say “People will want different things and people have different views. North Acton will double the amount of rooms in the lowest price band”. The rooms are likely to cost £146 per week at the latest estimate from College. This doesn’t take into account the cost of travel. Which would depend on whether or not the student in question had a weekly, monthly, annual, or just a normal oyster card. With an annual travel card for a student between zones 1-2 being about £16 per week, this puts the halls at roughly £162 per week. This is in a similar, and occasionally higher, band than the Evelyn Garden halls, whilst being further away. This is the cheapest possible travel card. It also means that with the price is above the £150 price band described above. The Union estimates the price to be £165 per week due the cost of a weekly student travel card.

The future of Evelyn Gardens is in doubt, with the possibility that it will be closed. College has 32 years left on the lease, which is owned by the Wellcome Trust – who have indicated that they want the properties back at the end of the lease. Imperial are trying to see if they can extend the lease, but current indications are that this is not possible. College has said that to redo the halls for the long term would cost too much money. The Union says that this is simply due to neglect in the past and is “self inflicted”. The Union have urged College to protect Evelyn Gardens. Currently North Acton is said to be an insurance policy.

Garden Hall (which is the most oversubscribed hall) will close at the end of this year if the new part of Wilson House is ready, a move which the Union have criticised due to Garden’s price and location. Wilson House was praised as “a brilliant example of what we would like more of as it is close and affordable” by Harding-Roots. Speaking of Garden, he stated that it is in a poor state and that it needs “urgent remedial works”. He noted that College would “look at redoing [redecorating] Garden or alternatives for all College uses as [we are] very short of space on campus”. This furthers speculation that Garden will be turned into office space.

 

ACTON.jpg
Artistic impression of plan for North Acton Halls -

The announcement of the North Acton halls says that feedback from students was used for the survey, which the Union contests, saying that most students filling in the Accommodation survey wanted to have a travel time of less than 30 minutes and in Zone 1. The Union went further to say that “this project ignored the feedback from students taken in the 2011 Accommodation Survey”. Most students taking part in the survey highlighted that the current halls were in a good location. On the survey, the Union claims that only 13% of respondents favoured halls such as North Acton. The Union also stressed that most amenities – such as an onsite bar – were not asked for by the students.

The Union has stated that College should offer a range of accommodation and set out the three parameters: “High specification and close, but not cheap. Close and cheap, but not at such a high specification. High specification and cheap, but a little bit further away from campus.”

There have also been fears over the wardening facilitiesin the halls. Harding-Roots said that there were “no plans to drop wardening”, and there will be a 24/7 staffed reception. The warden to student ratio that will be in North Acton is, at the minute, unclear. The Union have hinted that they think that the new halls will find it difficult to recruit a wardening team.

As well as pastoral care, safety concerns were raised. The walk from North Acton through to Hammersmith has been deemed unsafe and is advised against. College have said that no first years are accommodated at Hammersmith, but that they could look into providing transport as they would not want undergraduates to walk through an unsafe area.

When asked by Felix if the plans were a done deal and the new halls would definitely be in North Acton Harding-Roots said “it is”. He said that there was no chance of reversing the payment but Imperial now can guide the layout and design, saying “we want to engage with students to find out what they would like to see there”.

The information was made public at this time due to the purchase of the halls being commercially sensitive, with Harding-Roots suggesting that Imperial did not want another university to sweep in and take the halls.

The search for new halls has been going on for three years, and North Acton has been on the cards for one year. The Management Board approved the plans in December, and College Council approved it in January. College now own the halls after buying them off of Berkeley First, who are a specialist student halls developer. The have been involved with Imperial before as they are part of the joint venture at Griffon Studios, which had some problems reported by Felix last year, as well as Paragon.

College have a Q&A on their website.

Editorial

Comment by Paul Beaumont, Union President

Comment by Becky Lane, Deputy President (Welfare)

Comment by Doug Hunt, Deputy President (Education)

Comment by Scott Heath, Union President (2011-2012)

Paragon Case Study

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Comments (23 comments)

Paul J Beaumont

Friday February 22 2013 09:57

I've spent the last 6 months arguing against this; it was 'commercial in confidence' and I only knew about it because of my position on the College Council. I actively lobbied the College Management against it (ask them...). Only now can we tell students about it, now it's not 'confidential'.

Paul J Beaumont

Friday February 22 2013 09:57

[Last comment was at @Geek btw...]

Carol Ann Cheah

Friday February 22 2013 11:14

http://felixonline.co.uk/comment/3346/college-are-acton-up/

"Another thing that is very annoying in all of this is the lack of honesty and openness from College. Due to it being commercially sensitive, nobody that knew were allowed to say anything to anyone (least of all say anything to Felix). I do not blame them for not leaking as they would have been breaking trust and confidentiality agreements; it would not have been hard to identify the source of the leak. Yes, it would have been a great, bold move to do so."

So it's important before you get mad at the "lack of reporting/opposition" to calm your tits and see if it hasn't already been done/attempted.

Carol Ann Cheah

Friday February 22 2013 11:17

True to everything apart from Wilson - it was never meant to be gone for good; we're getting it back hopefully next year.

That said I agree they should've done something about it earlier (small bits of maintenance every summer) rather than needing to take a whole year out to do a massive overhaul. Ditto Garden, really - and if it's true that they scrapped the sports facilities in Wilson "for extra bed space", that's absolutely tragic.

Disgruntled

Friday February 22 2013 07:27

"we want to engage with students to find out what they would like to see there"

Oh wow. Just like you "engaged" in asking us if we actually wants halls there.

Geek

Friday February 22 2013 09:00

Why is the Union only doing something about this now? The Union has known that this is happening for years.

This Tab article (http://imperial.tab.co.uk/2013/02/20/editorial-college-needs-to-listen/) links to a Felix article from 2011 which predicted all of this.

That article talks about Jane Neary and says, "She argued that ultimately, the question to ask students is: “Would you prefer to live on the outskirts of zone two and come in or would you like to share a room on campus?“

So my question is to Paul Beaumont and Scott Heath – why are you only making a fuss now? When it's already been bought and decided?

The Union have left it too late. They knew the College were planning this for two years. (Or if they genuinely didn't, they should have known! It was in Felix!)

Geek

Friday February 22 2013 09:04

And just to add, why hasn't Felix been reporting on this? You guys reported it in the first place two years ago! What, you just didn't bother to check what was going on again? Bloody hell.

huh

Friday February 22 2013 09:47

> Harding-Roots said that “affordable rents” were the “main focus”. He said that College needed a “balanced portfolio, including lower band rooms, which are under £150 per week.

Harding-Roots is also living in a dream world. Does he think £150/week is _cheap_? When I was in halls I paid just under £100/week and even that completely consumed my student loan.

Close and cheap, but not at such a high specification. If you want luxury, go private.

Anonymous

Friday February 22 2013 09:58

Campus Services and College Council should be ashamed of themselves. They have managed to close down Wilson, Clayponds, the Holland Club and now this. If there is a prize for the worst student support the campus services director should get it. If the College ever call me up asking me for money for the rest of my life I will tell them where can go!

Pragmatist

Friday February 22 2013 10:28

I would love cheap accommodation in South Kensington. Unfortunately it's unrealistic, and the college have a point that a development in Fulham, Hammersmith or Earls Court wouldn't be affordable. The fact is that if you want to keep Evelyn Gardens they are going to have to be massively redeveloped and then prices are going to soar to be on a par with Eastside to cover the cost in the time remaining on the lease.

Let's be honest we're all acting a little spoilt pretending that there are cheap options available nearby that we can have in the long term. Lets grow up and realise that 40minutes in the morning isn't much more that a huge number of people in real jobs have to deal with in London.

Also, do you really think reversing the decision is a) going to happen b) going to help. You're just going to end up with the college losing money and having to charge even more for somewhere else. And that's a best case. Start thinking how Acton could be made great rather than blowing hot air!

Anonymous

Friday February 22 2013 10:52

@Pragmatist

Go back to the point where you first applied to uni... If you knew that all of your student loan was going to get consumed by rent and that that rent would be paying for a room in an area where you'd have to sit on a tube for nearly two hours a day just to get to your uni and back, would you really choose Imperial? Its an education not a job!

A second point is participation... Would you really go to all your classes/labs? NSS stats will tumble further than they already have, integration will suffer as there would be a divide between people in halls around college and the less well off students stuck out in acton...

All the college have to do is secure a fresh leasehold on evelyn and the problem dissappears... But they'd rather make some money on it instead... Lets face it they're not exactly passing the profit on if they want to charge 149 p/w for halls in acton... Its the major problem with having a commercial arm of a uni which doesnt have to care about students...

Anonymous

Friday February 22 2013 10:58

I think Simon Harding-Roots might be the Pragmatist

Anonymous

Friday February 22 2013 12:54

The rector has a bigass house, let's just move in with him

Random Alumni

Friday February 22 2013 13:01

Imperial's Q & A on W3 is full of BS.

http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_22-2-2013-11-8-5

Anonymous

Friday February 22 2013 13:38

why do new students have to cover the costs of a redevelopment? its not their fault the college hasn't invested in the hall for so long? use some of the money that gets blown on pointless projects like the library entrance

Ex-Acton

Friday February 22 2013 14:25

14 minutes on the Central Line (the best line on the Tube) and then a 20 min stroll across Hyde Park (or Circle to S. Ken if you're lazy): not the worst commute, and better than from Paragon.

The actual location is a much bigger issue. Most of Acton is a lot better than its rep, but this is right on the north edge of W3 neighbouring an industrial park. Then again, where are the undeveloped pockets closer to College?

Anon 2

Friday February 22 2013 14:39

(a.k.a. S H-R)

You could have cheap developments nearby - just without all the pointless crap like concierges, overpriced Taste Imperial outlets, fancy kitchens, and en suite bathrooms. Who really needs an en suite?! All you need is a bed, desk, chair and wardrobe. That's it.

Anonymous

Friday February 22 2013 15:53

Imperial should just put beds in the library - it's about as close to college as you can get!

Anonymous Coward

Saturday February 23 2013 17:39

I think it is clear that the College doesn't actually give a sh*t about the students that are its lifeblood. They would rather build a new spangly block of halls with en-suite facilities that are "affordable" (and yes, for en-suite rooms in london they will be affordable), than maintain old buildings that, to be honest, are still perfectly fit for purpose. They forget that what students *actually* want and need is a far cry from what College thinks the students want/need.

In short - students need two things: "Affordable" and "short commute" (

Ex-Garden Fresher

Sunday February 24 2013 19:11

Really, really angry about this. I had a fantastic time in Garden in first year and it'd be an absolute travesty if it was to close.

Besides, I stayed in a triple room for just under £70 a week, which was ace, at least for my bank account.

Now options like this are systematically being stripped away to feed dollar back to The Man and the production of more JCR baguettes. Probably.

#AgainstActon #PrayForRickRoss

Pragmatist mk2

Monday February 25 2013 02:51

Its ridiculous that they think they need more ensuite, single rooms. Affordable in Zone 1 = Sharing at least a bathroom, (and probably your bedroom too if you want sub £120 pw rent).

The union need to stop whingeing when they have no solution. If they want to complain, propose some viable alternatives to both Evelyn gardens and this acton folly. Otherwise, start engaging with college so the dont totally fuck it up.

Perhaps the union could:
- Campaign for a decent number of shared bedroom/bathroom rooms to be built there.
- Ensure college provide a dedicated free bus to arrive at college at 855 and 955 so students are only getting the tube back at the end of the day,
- Lobby councils to develop cycle routes into college from the hall
- Encourage college to move some first-year lectures to IC West or make them available at both campuses via video link.
- Create a system so its much easier for first years to people to share private accommodation that is within their price range.

Dawn

Wednesday February 27 2013 11:52

Maybe I'm missing something obvious but wouldn't it make sense to build the required new halls at Imperial West? It would be far closer to main campus, and would already have some of the 'leisure' facilities. 600 postgrad rooms are being built there, but surely providing undergraduate (many of whom are leaving home for the first time) accomodation is a bigger priority? Or instead, a new hall of residence could be built in place of the 4* hotel that was planned there?

cynic

Wednesday February 27 2013 12:25

You are missing something. Imperial West is all about making money, Imperial College is all about making money. Housing UGs costs money which is why they're being dumped in the back of beyond. That £65M a year surplus isn't being salted away to 'improve the student experience' or anything as altruistic as that. Many believe the college is building up a huge endowment so that it can break away completely from public funding to become a UK version of the US Ivy league. UG fees of £25k a year for all. You may have noticed all the daft names the senior management are calling themselves. 'Consul' ffs. At least two thirds of the September Council minutes are redacted as 'commercial in confidence', quite unprecedented.

They're up to something and it isn't good.

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