Warwick District Council is pleased to have the opportunity to make a submission to the Chancellor’s Commission on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Warwick University.
Although the University campus straddles the border between Warwick District and Coventry City Council’s areas, this Council considers the University to be very much part and parcel of Warwick District not least because it is also home to many of the University’s employees, its students, and because its contribution to locally based businesses is significant. The contribution that the University makes to the life of Warwick District in all respects is welcomed and valued, notwithstanding that its presence also creates some issues.
The Council’s submission is probably more practically orientated than perhaps many others it may receive. This reflects both issues which are currently faced by the District as a consequence of the University’s presence and the opportunities the University’s presence offers to help realise the Council’s vision for the District.
Policy Context - Vision for the District
Warwick District Council has set out a Sustainable Community Strategy (SCS) whose vision is, in short, “to help make Warwick District a great place to live, work and visit”. This may seem very “motherhood and apple pie” with which no one can possibly disagree but which may appear at face value to lack substance nor provide a real way to measure achievement. The Council recognises that a vision for an area, as opposed to an organisation, is notoriously difficult to achieve or at least to know when it is achieved. In many respects it is a journey that will never end. However, for the Council as an organisation, this simple vision has become its purpose. Whatever we do as a Council should contribute to achieving that vision.
Even recognising the difficulties there are many measures or indices that can and do help the Council to know if the area is making progress or not, even if they may not pass more normal academic or scientific scrutiny. These include quality of life measures, so for example Leamington Spa recently featured in a Sunday Times best places to live feature as being in the top 10 of places to raise a family; one of its villages, Barford, similarly appeared as one of the best villages in the country. Overall the District appeared recently as 11th in the country on quality of life indicators assessed by the Halifax, a rise of 44 places from the previous year’s analysis. The University’s position as being amongst the top 50 Universities worldwide is also a measure of the success of the area in many ways.
This ambition is of significance for the University, as being a great place to live is an attraction for new staff, and indeed for students wanting to work or study here.
However, in order to make real progress in realising its vision, the District Council has also within its SCS outlined 5 policy priority areas: Prosperity; Housing; Sustainability; Health and Well Being; and Community Safety. The Council’s submission is therefore based in relation to these 5 areas where it sees that over the next 50 years, but largely earlier than that, the University could make a valuable contribution.
Before doing that there is another important contextual policy framework to for the University to take into account, which is the Local Plan. The Local Plan is the spatial framework for the District for the period to 2029 which the Council is using to help realise its overall vision. It is also an investment framework which if successful could realise £5 to £6 billion of capital investment into the District, delivering almost 18,000 new homes (an increase of almost 30%), several hundreds of thousands square feet of business space (including the sub region’s main employment site), significant infrastructure additions, so creating several thousands of jobs and enabling pockets of community deprivation to be addressed whilst also protecting and enhancing the best of the local built and natural environment. All the ingredients essential for an area to be a great place to live, work and visit.
The Local Plan process and what will follow provides a particular opportunity for the University, given that it is possible that land near to the University’s campus may be released for development and the infrastructure necessary for that may offer an opportunity to further enhance the infrastructure for the University campus, if designed together as part of a wider master planning process. This opportunity features in various elements of the Council’s submission.
In making its submission, the District Council is conscious of and supports the sub regional economic strategy of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership as outlined in its Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) which is currently undergoing a refresh. It does not propose to duplicate comments that the LEP may make in its submission.
The University already makes a significant contribution to the local economy by virtue of its presence. However, there are a number of ways that it can increase its impact.
1.The University should assess how over the next 50 years how it can maximise its economic buying power locally via helping more local procurement, requiring apprenticeships and local labour to be used as part of its construction programmes and contracts. The University’s economic impact for local people and businesses can be argued to be “invisible”. Further improving its leverage and making it more obvious will aid greater appreciation of the University.
2. The economic issue for the country as a whole and no less for Warwick District’s economy and that of the sub region, is its productivity is not as high as it ought to be. The University has the opportunity to become a local growth pole for the sub region and the District, in the context of the Local Plan mentioned above by:
- Land – revising its campus master plan and assessing employment designations nearby to deliver opportunities for new business/research crossover opportunities for the existing and emerging growth sectors of the economy.
- Labour – looking at the needs and opportunities nationally, sub regionally and locally to provide the skills for students and staff to be able to participate fully and at a more productive level in the changing economy. This could involve developing strategies to retain graduates within the sub-region and reviewing the content of courses with local employers, whether a key sector like Games or a large employer like JLR to make sure the University will be equipping students with real world skills.
- Capital – looking at how it can bring in more capital investment that will enhance the overall productivity of the District and sub region. This could be, for example, in local transport infrastructure which may provide a direct benefit for the campus but in doing so also provide a real benefit for the local economy allowing for greater connectivity. It could equally be in business related research. For example, Leamington Spa has the 3rd largest cluster of Games companies in the country and is obviously a potential major growth industry for the country. Could investment in business related research aid its growth by the development and dissemination of new ideas and products to the local economy?
This is a crucial aspect for the District and for the University given the lack of housing and the consequent housing cost and quality. There are two issues where the University may wish to consider that it can have a helpful impact:
1. Student Housing – the District accommodates circa 5,000 students off campus and most live in Leamington Spa in a relatively condensed area. In some streets this influx has severely stressed residential communities because of behavioural matters and it has created tensions between students and local residents. This is not an unusual occurrence nationally but is perhaps more obvious locally given its happening in a relatively small town. However, there are opportunities for more purpose built accommodation off campus in Leamington and it is suggested that a partnership between Warwick Accommodation, the District Council and a private sector partner could deliver such premises but in a way which also helps the area by focussing on areas with a regeneration need along the canal and around Leamington Spa town centre. In effect the University provides the students and the subsequent management of facilities, the Council the planning and land assembly powers, and the private sector the finance to fund the development. This would draw more students away from the usual Homes in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), lessen the stress points for local residents, and offer the possibility of low income housing returning back to local residents whilst still maintaining a welcome presence for the students in town.
Related to this, the University’s positive presence in Leamington is hidden in the Town Hall. It would be helpful for a more significant and more obvious resource centre to be established perhaps linked to the above proposal and to the Council’s ambition to establish a “Creative Quarter” in an area south of the River Leam but very close to the established student quarter. This could perhaps be expanded to include other services and/or activities. This would take the University out of campus and make it more relevant to the local community.
2. Staff Housing – in terms of attracting and retaining staff the University will be as concerned as any one of the growing disparity between wage levels and house price levels which may hinder those efforts. Especially as it has an opportunity in reviewing its campus master plan and the possibility of land adjoining coming forward for development via the Local Plan, it should consider investment in providing key worker housing of all tenure levels.
Sustaining the natural and built environment into the long term is a major though challenging feature of any strategy for an area. As a substantive organisation locally the University can make a significant contribution directly and as a role model. More specifically, as part of a review of its campus master plan and in connection with the possible development of adjoining land, the University has the opportunity to create a landmark scheme by incorporating energy saving and renewable energy generating measures as standard features to drive down its carbon footprint and in the long run save money on its energy costs. Such an approach could allow for the replacement of older existing assets to be replaced by exemplar schemes in environmental terms.
It can enhance the sustainability aspect further by seeking, along with the possible adjoining development as part of a revised campus master plan, to incorporate wider choices of transport including a park way type rail station on the Coventry/Leamington line to facilitate student and staff travel movements on a more environmentally sustainable basis. This will require capital investment which the University should contribute towards. Such improvements should also include the changes at Coventry railway station to enable direct cross sub region rail movements from the north of the sub region to the south and vice versa as well as linkages to UK Central – the nearest station on the proposed HS2 line. The alterations at Coventry station will also facilitate direct rail services northwards to Leicester and southwards to Oxford. Subject to the franchising process it opens the possibilities of direct services to London Marylebone.
Also within the revised master plan and possible adjoining area, a new distributor road infrastructure would be needed enabling a link road around Gibbet Hill to an improved junction on the A46, to both better serve the University and any adjoining development east and west of it, and to divert the A429 and its road traffic away from Kenilworth town centre thus helping to resolve an area of that town with poor air quality. In the longer term this could also be extended to enable a northern bypass of the A452 around Kenilworth and a more direct link to the Berkswell rail station.
At a detailed level the Campus master plan as revised should as a matter of principle be based upon sustainable development principles and should promote walking, cycling, public transport, and should incorporate features to enhance its bio-diversity and its overall built design quality. Its ambition should be to be as “green” as is possible to be and to become a “great” place to be in its own right.
Likewise, within Leamington, if the University is prepared to embark on a Joint Venture approach as advocated in this submission under the heading “Housing” then such joint developments should also be aiming to deliver the highest possible environmental design and more especially its urban design quality given the likely context of the sites coming forward where the emphasis is on regeneration within a conservation area. Such an approach will also help with bringing forward brownfield sites, aiding the regeneration of a deprived local community, supporting the vitality and viability of Leamington town centre and helping to reduce poor air quality.
Health and Well Being/Community Safety
This is a theme very strongly linked to the last. There must be a clear emphasis on promoting the health and well-being of students and staff by promoting more active lifestyles. This can be achieved partly via design and infrastructure provision to reduce reliance on travel by car but also be ensuring that there are quality leisure facilities available. This is currently an area of discussion between the University and the Council and this needs to continue especially if land adjoining the University does come forward for development, as there may be additional demand for leisure facilities and these may need to be shared.
A wider appreciation of health and well-being is needed especially to reflect the “mental health” of staff and students. Cultural provision should be part of this, including public open space, parks, as well as arts provision. However, this ought not to be exclusive to the University but be part of the wider community provision. The more direct health facility provision will need to be addressed with the NHS.
On the Community Safety front, the University, Police and the District Council have developed a range of initiatives to tackle issues that arise between students and residents and to aid students on “nights out”. This range of initiatives and their funding needs to be maintained albeit with regular reviews.
The Chancellor’s Commission is an excellent opportunity to reflect on what has happened since the University’s inception 50 years ago and to consider the next 50 years.
Warwick District Council considers the University to be a major partner in delivering its vision for the local area. With a view to both helping the University but also aiding the local area the Council has set out in the preceding pages of this submission some practical steps on what it thinks the University can do with this Council. The Council will look forward to the eventual report and to discussing these ideas to turn them into action.