A Response to the Sheraton Park FAQs

The University has released a set of answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding the Sheraton Park move (which can be found here, though you must have a Durham University login to see it!). Much of the answers are informational, and the GCR has written a point-by-point discussion of each answer. Many are of course statements of fact, but we have expressed our gravest concerns and brought to light some inaccuracies in the University’s points.

We shall begin in the order they are presented on the website:

What is proposed for Sheraton Park?

“The delivery of the new University Strategy requires the provision of new student accommodation in Durham City. This is to enable growth of the University and investment in its students, staff and facilities. In the first phase of the strategy, the movement of Queen’s Campus students to Durham City coincides with growth in student numbers. Sheraton Park is a new development that provides over 400 high-quality self-catered bedrooms. The University and developer have been in discussion to ensure that the site can offer the facilities required for a college environment – as opposed to a conventional “halls of residence” which we the University would not support.

The proposal is for Ustinov College to permanently relocate to Sheraton Park and reduce its residential student body from c.600 to 400 beds (excluding those at the Dryburn Site). The former Ustinov Site at Howlands will become a ‘mixed’ (UG and PG) college, and potentially provide the long-term home for either Snow or Stephenson College.”

This response is a rundown of the proposed move. To our knowledge it is factual.

Why were you unable to consult before the Council meeting?

“We were unable to consult widely with the student body before Council met in July to consider an outline business case. This is because the University has been engaged in commercially confidential negotiations seeking to maximise the quality and nature of the facilities provided at the best possible price…”

By the time the GCR was informed of this plan (by accident), the nature of the facilities was completely inadequate. There was no bar, no sports facilities barring an on-site gym, and a completely inappropriate social space. It does not seem that this confidentiality secured *any* facilities whatsoever.

In fact, had the student body been consulted when proposals for housing the QC colleges were being put forward, these plans might not have involved the Sheraton Park site at all. This makes the relocation of Ustinov seem like a done deal before the proposals were even considered.

“It is important to note that no final decision has been taken by Council: they considered the outline proposal – alongside a number of options – and agreed that the outline proposal should be developed into a full business case. They recognised that consultation with the student body had been limited by commercial confidentiality and agreed that we should begin consultation with the University community from this point forward.”

The fact that only one proposal has been put forward is damning enough evidence that this option is destined to pass at the next Council meeting. Given that QC students must move to Durham in the 2017/2018 academic year, if this business case were to fail then 600 college beds would have to be found in less than 1 year – including a brand new plan and business case (which took around 4 months for the current proposal). This would be entirely unreasonable, leading to our belief that this proposal will inevitably be passed no matter the opposition.

“The final business case will be considered in full by Council at their meeting in September. We will include a report on the consultation and comments received. We also anticipate that the Ustinov College Principal and representative(s) of the Colleges affected will be able to put forward their views to Council.”

We await the report with bated breath.

Why must Ustinov move? Why can’t another college be based there? Ustinov has moved several times already; will this be yet another transitional arrangement?

“The Sheraton site is targeted at the postgraduate community and the development is restricted on the proportion of undergraduates who can live there (60% maximum, c. 250 students).”

It should be noted that we have corrected the university on this figure. They had repeatedly quoted a figure of 45% max undergrads, and the proposal went forward based on this number. The fact that this hasn’t made the University reconsider their position is slightly concerning.

“The option for another college to be based at Sheraton Park was considered but, to manage the balance of numbers across the University student body, it would require Ustinov to become a mixed (UG and PG college).”

We are not convinced this was the only option. In the transitional year 2017/2018, Josephine Butler college is due to expand to take over some of Ustinov’s space on the Howlands site, while Ustinov remains in a reduced capacity with access to Fisher House. Ustinov is by far the largest college in Durham, and reducing the size of Ustinov and growing Josephine Butler must surely have been an option to keep Ustinov at Howlands Farm.

“From conversations with the Ustinov Principal it is clear that this is undesirable and Ustinov would like to remain a graduate college. This proposal will ensure that Ustinov’s continues to be a graduate-only college.”

Our college is defined by its postgrad-only status and the huge variety of nationalities that make this place our home. We agree that this is vital to the identity of the college, but the current proposals do not guarantee to preserve this identity anyway.

“The proposal is that we enter in a 25 year nomination, in the first instance. This is a long-term move. The University has plans to carefully increase student numbers in the next decade and to provide accommodation to meet its future needs. These plans do not include moving Ustinov again.”

Ustinov moved to the Howlands Farm site fully in 2004. Those plans did not include moving Ustinov again. It is impossible to preserve a college culture and identity when relocating a college across a city every decade. The University would simply never ask University (Castle) College or Hatfield College to leave their current sites on the bailey, as their colleges have become intertwined with their homes. This relocation stops Ustinov College from forming these long-term relationships with their location which allows a college to flourish.

Why not delay QC relocation?

“The timetable for the Queen’s campus relocation has been agreed with University Council and the key departments and colleges. A protracted ‘teach out’ model for relocation was rejected because it would leave a small group of students at Queen’s in the final year and it would be difficult to maintain the student experience. We also need additional student bedrooms to allow for the growth that will take place at Durham City, which is key to the new University Academic Strategy.”

The fact that the timeline for moving the QC colleges and departments to Durham before the legwork was done to decide where the students and departments would be placed is either incompetent or malignant. If Ustinov was destined for this move since the decision to move the QC colleges was made, why were we not consulted much earlier in the process?

Where is Sheraton Park?

“Sheraton Park is located to the west of Durham City, approximately 1.2km from the Bill Bryson Library.

The site is not significantly further from the science site than Howlands. The walk distance from Sheraton to the University Library is 1.4km, compared with 1.2km from Howlands. The walk distance from Sheraton to the Cathedral is 1.5km compared with 1.9km from Howlands.

There is a bus route that connects Sheraton into Durham City, but not via Potters Bank. We are discussing this with the existing bus service providers to see if they would modify or provide a new route. We are also looking at this matter more widely as part of the travel plan for the University strategy.”

This is certainly necessary, and we thank the UC for taking our concerns about bus routes into account. From conversations with the local residents association, they would also be in favour of extended bus routes and services.

“Two new dedicated footpaths connecting the site to the town are being built.”

We would love for lit footpaths in this area to be extended more widely. Though given the rurality of some of the routes, even lit footpaths can be intimidating for those travelling to and from college in the winter months.

Sheraton Park is very close to the Business School – does this mean that mainly Business students will be admitted to Ustinov?

“Ustinov College will, as at present, be open to all postgraduates at the University. A significant number of our postgraduates are based at the Business School and so we should expect this to be reflected in the college make-up. However, we will work with the college to ensure that that there is a diverse community at the college.”

We have been told conflicting accounts of this information. In fact it has been suggested that Ustinov increase its PGR proportion as a result of the move, to the deficit of one-year PGT students. There will be a review of college application procedures over the next year which will entirely alter the outcome of this.

Will the following be provided at Sheraton Park?

Communal social space with cafe provision: The original communal space was inadequate and has, following discussions with Ustinov staff, students and the developer, been significantly expanded and now an equivalent size to that provided at Howlands (adjusted for lower student numbers). A continental café will be provided. We expect this will be licensed and an application for this will made shortly, assuming we proceed with the proposal.”

The University’s first words to the GCR regarding the lack of the bar were “30% of undergraduates don’t drink these days, you know”. Thankfully, they have clearly backtracked on this idea given our outrage. A bar is far more than a place to purchase alcohol and get drunk. In Ustinov, the Fisher House Bar is the social centre of the college after work hours, when most PhD and MBA students have free time to socialise. Notwithstanding the fact that Ustinov Bar functions as a common meeting place for PG students while UG college bars are closed and PG students are still in Durham. It is imperative that Ustinov continue to have a functioning, well-stocked bar.

Study space: Study space is provided in Sheraton Park in two areas: the communal space associated with each cluster of flats and in the new social space noted above.”

There is no viable opportunity to provide bespoke additional study space at Sheraton Park. Therefore, we have identified the possibility of providing additional study space at Mill Hill Lane, which is close to Sheraton Park.”

“Communal space associated with each cluster of flats” – You mean the kitchens? No, thank you.

Ustinov College fought for funding for a postgraduate study space at Howlands Farm for years. It was finally granted earlier this year following a student consultation. This was such a huge victory for the College, only to find out that we will now never see this building, which will be repurposed for the incoming undergraduate students from QC and JB.

“Gym / sports provision:

A gym is provided at Sheraton Park. There will be an outdoor sports area, including a football pitch, exercise track (potentially suitable for adults and young families), and access to all-weather tennis courts. In addition, we are negotiating with Durham School – a short distance from Sheraton Park and connected by a new cycle way – to provide the College with access to an indoor swimming pool as well as other sports facilities.”

Regarding the gym, we have been promised an area scaled facility very similar to our current gym. The particular facilities that are promised here have the support of some local residents (who would have access too – though the distribution of time is unclear), and we are hopeful that some could be built. There is no guarantee to this, though, and would require a public planning permission consultation. As far as we are aware any discussions regarding access to a swimming pool are in their very early stages, and it is frankly deceitful to pass this off as a solid option.

Outdoor leisure space

The two main buildings are separate by a large communal, landscaped garden. An enclosed courtyard exists in one of the main buildings.”

It should be noted that this space would be open to the public. This is somewhat different to the privacy (and resultant safety) that we are privileged with on the current site. This does however allow access to local residents, who may similarly wish to use this green space.

Space for college formals:

The large communal space can be used for events (e.g. seminars) but not for collective dining. The intention is that high quality dining space will be provided at Mill Hill Lane where a high quality dining facility exists. The latter can accommodate up to 185 covers for formals.”

This 185 seat capacity is dependent upon several expensive upgrades to Mill Hill Lane’s (DUBS) restaurant. If the University is guaranteeing this investment, this seems a reasonable option. The noise of 185 students passing through the local neighborhood while possibly inebriated is another matter, however.

“Guest rooms

It has been agreed that four large, en-suite rooms are provided. “

This seems sensible.

“Seminar room

A centrally bookable room is available at Sheraton Park for seminars. It can accommodate 20-30 people and has catering facilities.”

The meaning of “centrally bookable” needs further definition. We would like as much time as possible to be devoted to Ustinovians rather than as an external meeting room for the Business School. The residents association has been promised bookable time in this room as well, which considering their proximity would possibly be a necessity.

“Accommodation for student officers

This is provided at Howlands and an equivalent facility will be provided at Sheraton Park.”

This space would currently not provide a large enough secure storage space for our audio equipment necessary to run events such as Ustinov Live or the Ustinov BBQ, such as we have at the Howlands Farm site.

“SCR

The requirement for SCR space is provided for within the community room.”

I believe “community room” here refers to the seminar room above.

Internet provision:

The development will have excellent internet provision.”

This really must be access to the University network, given that PGR and PGT students are the two groups who are most in need of access to the university’s journal subscriptions. This is a vital part of a PG college.

“Parking space:

A number of parking spaces are provided on site. These will be allocated in accordance with University policy.”

From what we understand there would be the possibility for students to obtain car parking spaces. The planning permission requires around 30-40 spaces for staff and student use.

“Music practise room:

There are currently no proposals for this to be provided at Sheraton Park but we recognise that there is a strong interest in having one and are talking to the developer to see whether one can be provided.”

This is a very popular facility amongst Ustinovians and helps support the Café des Arts (within the Global Citizenship Programme) and is vital for our student bands and music groups.

Study facilities:

We will work with the DUBS to make available study space at Mill Hill Lane. In addition, as part of the wider University Strategy we will be reviewing study space to ensure that this is built into our plans, including additional space in the teaching and learning hub which will open in 2018.”

This seems to be repeated from above but with different information?

“Allotment:

We will look into this further to identify possible options.”

Again, a facility that is very popular within the college. We would love access to such a facility.

The original planning proposal states no bar / no outdoor events – is this correct?

“The original planning proposals were not designed for a Durham University college. We are working with Durham County Council and the Sheraton Park Residents Association to ensure that the site is suitable for a college community, including the provision of a bar. They are positive about the University’s involvement with Sheraton Park.

We will apply for “club licence” if we proceed with the proposal and agree a contract with the developer. We cannot apply for this until we have a contract. We have substantially altered the original proposals for the scheme to provide a social space and bar area that is the same size pro rata to the proposed resident student population.”

The 60-40 split was similarly not designed for a Durham University College. Why this part of the planning permission is now negotiable given DU’s involvement but the 60-40 split is not, I do not understand.

A license to serve alcohol is necessary, given not only the social aspect, but also the fact that many Ustinov students manage to fund their degrees through work in the bar. The Sheraton Park Residents’ Association do indeed seem amenable to the presence of a bar given adequate soundproofing.

The Ustinov GCR has invested their funds in facilities at Howlands – will this be reimbursed?

“We have asked the GCR to provide details of the investments they have made for further discussion.”

This is ongoing and will be with the members of UC soon

Will there still be a full range of scholarly activities and college events?

“The facilities provided at Sheraton Park will allow for the same range of scholarly activity and events to be organised by the college and GCR.”

The café-bar area of Fisher House can currently be split to allow concurrent social activity and scholarly activity (for example simultaneous lectures and film nights / pub quizzes in the bar). This would not currently be possible.

The facilities provided at Sheraton Park will allow for the same range of scholarly activity and events to be organised by the college and GCR.

“A range of high specification room types will be provided fitted to a standard that is at least as good as any accommodation within the Durham University residential estate. The development comprises mainly cluster flats, but with some twin rooms and some larger studio flats. All are en-suite and have wifi.”

There will be no shared-bathroom rooms in Sheraton Park. This ensures that Sheraton Park will become less accessible to those without the money to afford en-suite accommodation. The diversity that Ustinov gains from being accessible to all is vital to our identity as a college.

There are fewer bedrooms at Sheraton Park – what does this mean for Ustinov?

“There will be a smaller residential community at Sheraton Park. This may mean a smaller college community (with more PGs at other colleges) or a larger proportion of students ‘living out’. We would welcome views from Ustinov College on how they would like to reshape to respond to this change.”

One crucial aspect of Ustinov’s large number of liver-in rooms is that we have a very international community. International students struggle with private landlords in Durham, who often request 6 months’ rent in advance or a UK-based guarantor – something that international students who have never been to the UK simply cannot provide. The University is again restricting access to all but the most wealthy international students by cutting 200 rooms from PG students. If the University wishes to implement a University guarantorship scheme for international students, this would be welcome. They can look to universities such as UCL, York, Edinburgh, SOAS and many others for good practice (along with the NUS).

When will the move to Sheraton Park take place?

“In 2017/18 Ustinov will operate out of both Howlands and Sheraton Park. In 2018 the college will move to Sheraton Park permanently.”

This is our understanding of the current plans.

Postgraduates are here all year round – won’t this move cause disruption?

“We will schedule the relocation to cause the minimum disruption. The transitional year in 2017/18 will reduce the number of students who are required to move from their accommodation over the summer.”

The proposed timing of the move does indeed minimise disruption for continuing PhD students wishing to live in college.

I wanted to stay in the same room throughout my course – will that be possible?

“We recognise that some students may have anticipated staying in the same room throughout their studies. We will be able to offer the same room throughout the transitional year. After September 2018 continuing students who are living in will need to move to Sheraton Park and we will work with them to ensure that there is minimal disruption. For those starting in 2017 we will make sure that they are aware of the planned move as soon as possible.”

It’s disgusting that the University does not think to make students who will be arriving in October aware of even the possibility that the college will be upended in 12 months time. It may not yet have passed Council, but there is no reason to deliberately withhold this information.

What will the rent be at Sheraton Park?

“The University has committed that no Ustinov students currently at Howlands who move to Sheraton will pay more for their rooms than had they not moved. The University is negotiating an annual rent to the provider of the accommodation – the University will set room prices as normal for all PG and UG accommodation across the University.”

Even for those who pay reduced fees for shared bathroom flats whose room type will no longer exist at the new site? So there will be two sets of students paying different prices for the same en-suite rooms?

There will be three colleges sharing the Howlands site in 2018/19 – will there be enough facilities?

“Currently Josephine Butler and Ustinov share some facilities at Howlands, as well as having some college specific facilities. We recognise that it is important that colleges have space that is just for college use and will be working with the three colleges who will be sharing the site in 2017/18 to ensure that there are sufficient facilities, for example providing separate space for all three colleges’ JCRs.”

By our understanding, Ustinov College would keep exclusive use of Fisher House until we permanently leave the site.

The proposal is for either Snow or Stephenson to move to Mt Oswald – when will we know who is moving there? Will the other college remain at Howlands permanently?

“This will be discussed further with the Snow and Stephenson JCRs and the wider student community at these colleges.“

While this will be discussed, from the information we have been given this is the current plan.

The Sheraton Park site is isolated from other colleges in a residential setting. We’ve heard that the local residents don’t want students there.

“The Sheraton Park development is within easy walking distance of the hill colleges, the Mountjoy site and main University library, and the town centre. The University has met with Sheraton Park Residents Association who were extremely positive about the proposal for Ustinov College to move to the site.“

They are extremely positive about the proposal given that the inhabitants will be students, several years ago the same site was destined to be luxury apartments – a situation the residents would prefer. However, given that students will occupy the site, the residents would prefer PG students as they believe us to be better behaved. In essence – we are being punished because we are too well behaved.

What if University Council says “no” to the proposals – are there other options under consideration?

“Council has asked that the University Executive bring forward a final business case based on the outline business case it received in July – which proposed moving Ustinov College to Sheraton Park. This is what we are consulting on. We are not consulting on other options at this point in time. If Council decides not to support the full business case, then it will likely ask the Executive to bring forward alternative proposals. At that time, the University will consult on any new options with students, staff and external stakeholders.”

As discussed before. There is simply not enough time for this to happen. It is our opinion that despite overwhelming dissent by Ustinovians, this proposal will be forced through. Commercial sensitivity is not a good enough reason to remove consultation on the original set of proposals.

I disagree with the planned expansion in student numbers, including the movement of Queen’s Campus students to Durham City. Why was I not consulted on these proposals?

“The planned growth in student numbers over the forthcoming Strategy period (2017-2027) will, when the move of Queen’s Campus students is factored in, mean that the University continues to grow broadly in line with the rate of growth it has followed in the last several decades (see graph below).

studentgrowth2

The decision to grow student numbers has been taken following extensive consultation across the University as the new University strategy has developed. These decisions have been taken and the proposed movement of Ustinov College to Sheraton Park is one of a large number of changes that the University is embarking on to deliver the new Strategy.”

This is simply an abuse of statistics. A straight line has been fitted with the proposed data included. Obviously if you add on data to your dataset in a linear fashion, it will eventually look linear. If we take the original data and fit it with a line (r^2=0.93), we see:

plot1

Now, I’m a physicist. If I saw that data, I might not be so convinced about a “linear” fit. In fact, I might try to fit this with something of the form:

equation

We’ve introduced one more parameter, but as you can see the fit is much better (the red line):

plot2

In fact, this fit is asymptotically approaching a constant student number as we go far into the future. I would dispute quite heavily that the student number in Durham has been increasing linearly in any fashion. The University seems to want this to be the case. So lets plot these new data points in (red x‘s):

plot3

One might now understand why you could question whether the University has been growing linearly. It seems more like Durham University has slowly been approaching a constant number of students, and the new strategy involves an entirely new growth spurt, inconsistent with previous growth.

Will the existing staff at Ustinov College move to Sheraton Park?

“The expectation is that college staff involved in student welfare and administration will move to Sheraton Park. A decision as to whether the portering and cleaning staff move as well has not yet been made.”

The college staff that students see the most are the porters and cleaning staff. These are the staff who become friends to students over their time at Ustinov. It would not be acceptable for the PBSA to contract in security staff and cleaners on short term contracts that are not consistently seen from week to week. College staff add so much to the college experience, that it’s important that they are not forgotten or left behind.

What about the impact of the proposal on other Durham Colleges?

“The proposal will impact students across the University, including Ustinov, Josephine Butler, John Snow and George Stephenson. The University is in discussion with all of these colleges to identify how their student experience can be optimised by the proposals. This will include providing new facilities at the Howlands site, so as to ensure that when three colleges occupy the site there are adequate facilities to enable each college to retain its own identity. It is important that students from all colleges contribute to the discussion about the proposal under consideration.”

It is very important that if this proposal must go through, then the QC colleges find a welcome home at Howlands Farm. This is our home, but if we must part I hope it can be on the best of terms.

Well done to those of you who made it to the very end of this article. Apologies for its rather incredible length, but there was a lot to respond to!

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