Fife Matters: HMO harmony seems a long way off in historic St Andrews

© DC Thomson

Change in any form can prove contentious, and that has certainly beem the case in St Andrews recently.

Development debates in the historic town are not uncommon and can be particularly fierce at times — one need only look at the lengthy saga surrounding the replacement of Madras College.

It was not surprising to see local people exercise their right to protest once more over the recurring issue of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

That cloud (like Madras for many years until the sunshine of a universally preferred site finally broke through earlier this year) has been hanging over the Fife town for an age, and is something never properly addressed.

A planning moratorium is in place in relation to new HMOs in the town centre and the council is assessing the impact that has had but a new application for an HMO in Learmonth Place has prompted heat and noise.

On one hand, we have a couple – the applicants – who stressed they were trying to make use of the home that had come into their hands by renting it out to five people.

They wanted to make the property financially viable while retaining it for their return to the town from their current home down south at some point in the near future.

Students would be heavily vetted by the university, which would act as the local agent to deal with any problems. They even went as far as saying there would be a three-car maximum to alleviate parking concerns, no parties would be allowed and no overnight visitors permitted. Failure to abide by those clauses in the contract would result in eviction.

This prompted understandable scepticism. Not all students fall into the stereotype of staying up late-night party animals but locals are anxious about the transient nature of their prospective new neighbours.

The move would set a dangerous precedent and could ruin the sense of community, they argues.

Councillors disagreed, permitting the HMO application, and it is now up to those who move in to make sure they remain on the right side of the rules.

With growing numbers of students expected at the university in coming years, pressure to create more HMOs will grow and battle lines will be drawn in communities across town. Peace and harmony, sadly, seem a long way off.