At first all seemed promising as the print version of the Argus dutifully carried his assertion that “Brighton Still Needs 1,700 more rooms for students” as part of an almost full-page spread on a prominent page, apparently a great piece of property PR for Mr Scott and his company.
However, the online version of the article carried a different headline: “Lewes Road corridor residents fear being consumed by ‘studentification’.”
This soon flushed out the anti-student brigade who wanted no more students in the city, the affordable housing campaigners who only wanted affordable housing for residents in the city and those who sought to “Reclaim the Lectern” as a community asset/pub, including some students, plus local residents’ groups and even the main local Facebook group Brighton People.
Links to the live planning application to object were freely bandied about in a classic example of what happens when property PR backfires.
Reading various comments, some interesting observations also came to light:
• A previous planning application to turn the Lectern pub into a nine-bedroom sui generis had been turned down in May 2016, partly on grounds of “overdevelopment”. Yet here was an application for a 189-bedroom – yes, 189! – block on the same site, albeit enlarged by encompassing additional premises next door into the site.
• There may be an overestimation of wealthy students who can afford high-end developments in the city (apparently less than two percent). Some developers in other cities have folded through over-supply.
• Student numbers are not set to increase in the city and one university in Brighton has falling student numbers due a drop in the national university league table.
• Both Brighton-based universities are meanwhile developing their own blocks on their own land to maximise student accommodation.
• Many students still see moving into a house as a traditional rite of passage after their first year in halls as they seek to become part of the community in readiness for leaving university. It is mainly international students who favour blocks and all-inclusive packages.
• There is likely to be a drop in international students owing to many countries building their own state-of-the-art universities, particularly the Chinese, which means they will have no need to send their sons and daughters to Britain to pay three times or more than a UK student.
• Meanwhile, there has been an overall five to seven percent national drop in university applications since fees rose again.
Worse still, the print version of the newspaper now has around 17,000 city readers a day, whereas the online version has many times that encompassing the whole of Sussex and beyond.
It is a strange dichotomy but Mr Scott is dealing with a community who want no more Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in residential streets while wanting no more purpose-built blocks for students either.
They want no more students in the city full stop, and it takes a brave developer, apparently with the benefit of no professional PR guidance or media training, to think he can win them over by telling them how many extra student rooms he thinks the city needs.
He has only managed to illustrate what happens when property PR backfires.
* This article is purely the view of the author who is a Brighton-based media relations specialist who provides media training and crisis communication training in Sussex and London.