Plans to convert the old Debenhams store on Bangor High Street into student flats have been met with a mixed reaction by students and locals alike.
The plans, to create accommodation for 49 students, will free up student housing for local residents however there are grave concerns by locals at how much student accommodation is already available in the city centre.
In a statement, agent Cadnant Planning said: “Not only will the proposed development be of benefit to individuals moving into the accommodation but also it will have the added positive impact of freeing up the current private housing stock for families and younger couples.
“One of the problems facing Wales is that young people are moving out of areas such as Gwynedd due to the lack of housing available to them. This proposal will no doubt help to alleviate this problem.”
Among the student population however, the main concern appears to be not how much student accommodation is available but the standard of it with many complaining of sub-standard living conditions and landlords who don’t seem to care.
Natasha Froggatt, 21, of College Road, Bangor, has had problem after problem since moving into her current house with the first issue being the front door. She said: “The lock was barely catching and it was super weak, it would have taken only a shoulder barge to open it. The police came around (they were making the rounds in Upper Bangor during freshers week) and basically told us it was useless and we would be robbed.
“We contacted the landlord and nagged for one but we were basically ignored. Eventually in January 2016 our front door actually broke, and we were unable to shut it properly so we had to get a new one.”
Unfortunately, the front door was only the first in a long line of problems she and her housemates have endured since they moved in to the property. Broken radiators, an oven that has never worked and perhaps most concerning of all, the landlords long delay in fitting a carbon monoxide detector despite constant requests by his tenants.
The last straw for Natasha came when alarmingly, her bedroom wall began to cave in behind the wallpaper. She said: “Apparently, there had been a crack on the outside wall (my room is on the semi-detached side) and a lot of rain had come in. They had dealt with the external stuff but didn’t fix any internal issues. So, my wall started crumbling and falling down.
“I contacted Varcity [the agent in charge of the property] and they sent the maintenance guy around. He pulled down my wall but didn’t cover up any of my stuff so everything was covered in wall dust and stuff.”
While Natasha’s case may seem extreme, it is far from an exception. Charlotte Mansell, 21, left Bangor after completing her undergraduate degree last year but she tells of constant problems while living in her house on Penchwintan Road in Upper Bangor.
The main problem was a simple leak from the bathroom into the kitchen however it appears her landlady was less than helpful when dealing with it. She says: “She wasn’t happy and she wanted us to turn off the stop cock which we had no idea where it was as we hadn’t been shown.
“She also requested we go into my other house mates room. However, as she was not in Bangor the room was locked. She was annoyed and questioned us as to why we locked our rooms before stating that we should leave them open.”
While some students were happy to be named, some were fearful about what landlords would do were the state of their properties made public. One student, who stated that she didn’t want to be made homeless by her landlord, took a house in lower Bangor last year.
Upon moving into the property, she found the house still filthy from the previous tenants. The walls and mattresses were all stained as were the toilets. The houses also lacked basic safety equipment required by law such as fire extinguishers.
The safety issues were not limited to the lack of safety equipment though with a potentially catastrophic gas issue being narrowly averted. She said: “We had a gas issue, and it turned out the cooker was actually completely unsafe and had to be replaced so we had no cooker for a week.”
Another student, who also wished not to be named, said: “I’m reluctant to share my identity because I know that a lot of the landlords in Bangor know each other and I don’t want to get a name for myself for being a troublesome tenant as I’ve still got another year at university and I’m scared it’ll prevent me from renting a new place.”
She also took a place in lower Bangor last year and is currently living with black mold covering the walls, a broken oven, no heating and no hot water. She said: ‘The house is wet. The walls are wet. The wardrobe is unusable on one side because the walls are sodden and slimy. Everything smells musty and stale. Laundry takes almost a week to dry properly even with the windows open.
“None of the taps run hot. Luckily the shower works fine, but you have to boil a kettle to do the washing up. There’s cracks in the brickwork and window frame setting so you can see the street outside and feel the wind blow through the holes.”
It is not as though the landlords don’t know about these problems, it seems to be a case that they have no interest or inclination to sort them out leaving many of Bangor’s students living in squalid conditions.
For some students, things don’t seem as bad. One student who stays with his girlfriend on Belmont Avenue in Upper Bangor, Andy Cartwright, 32, couldn’t speak highly enough of her landlady. He said: “The house is really nice, with fast internet and the landlady is always round doing repairs and checking on the state of the house.”
Whether these new planned student accommodations live up to the standards promised by the builders and agents remains to be seen. In the meantime, it would seem there is still work to be done with regards to the current living conditions of many students in the city.