Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Withington visitors

Yesterday afternoon I attended a gathering in the Park pavilion with other local people to meet with a group of visitors from Manchester which had been arranged by Melanie Futer, Manager of off Campus Student Affairs at Nottingham University. It came about after Melanie had a conversation with a resident from Manchester who had come across the University's 'Students and the Community' leaflet. There were six people in the group, a couple of Manchester City Council officers involved in neighbourhood services and regeneration, a Manchester University director and student rep, plus the Chair of Withington Civic Society and a Withington ward Manchester city councillor. Altogether, quite an impressive group of people.

With quite a few Nottingham folk present from local City Council services, the Police, the Forum and other local groups, I was quite pleased that I had the chance to chat with three of Melanie's guests. In many ways what seems to be happening to Withington is what happened to Lenton 10–15 years ago. They are at a stage when positive intervention by all the interested parties in partnership can probably make a difference. Despite the lack of any real local powers to control the inevitable, they can mitigate its worst excesses. Students and the buy-to-let private landlords who exploit their need for accommodation will gravitate to where the housing is cheapest to buy or rent, relative to the campus and other facilities that students like to enjoy.

Withington is on the south side of Manchester, sandwiched between the city centre, universities and better off Didsbury to its south. Lenton, on the other hand, is sandwiched between Nottingham University and the city centre. In the end, this might be a telling difference. It would be interesting to know what is happening on either side of the university 'corridor' which runs between Manchester city centre and Withington. If they are lucky, these will also expand as student areas and relieve some of the pressure.

I hope they went away with a better idea about the importance of local community involvement in tackling the challenges associated with large increases in student populations. The Chair of Withington Civic Society made the telling comment to me that local voluntary organisations and churches are already finding that people now travel in from outside Withington to use their services and to attend the churches. That suggested to me that the impact of private landlords was already considerable. The Liberal city councillor I spoke to seemed like someone who would be perfectly at home in Lenton and had a good grasp of the problems. If he articulated his concerns to voters in much the same way, it is easy to appreciate why he was elected.

They all said how impressed they had been with our local city councillor David Trimble and Melanie Futer. What none of them seemed to know was that Melanie was already working in our part of Nottingham as a police community liaison officer and was well known to many of us before she took up her post with the University. I am sure this made a big difference at the time of her appointment and since. She is a good ambassador for the University whilst being mindful of local community concerns and issues.

One comment which amused me (and it is one I have heard other visitors make) was that they didn't expect to find a park like Lenton Recreation Ground in 'an area like this'. This view just confirms what I have long suspected about the importance of good parks and open space. They not only lift their communities, they lift expectations as well — which is why Nottingham needs to make all its local parks as good as ours.

At least 10 government ministers have been to see the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, in a growing party revolt over police pay,

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