When I first came to Keele a couple of years ago, I knew little about the university’s past. However, I quickly discovered (after going to pre-drinks across campus during the first few months) that a mythical legend existed: that of the former Hawthorns accommodation. I had third years telling me stories of how Hawthorns was “rat infested” and there were “many dark creatures” that existed within the buildings in which former students lived. Of course, believing it was “rat infested” was more understandable than believing that “dark creatures” lived there. Let’s just say that during my second year, I retold the stories countless times to new students.
Moving towards the present day (as well as reality), the former accommodation block was eventually demolished and has since been turned into a housing development. As a student of Human Geography, planning is one of my main interests. This change made a lot of sense, both for the university and for the area. The decision was made in 2015, after the university concluded that the process of refurbishing Hawthorns was both “technically and financially impractical.” Instead, the university decided to build New Barnes, and some of you lucky ones living there are much better for it. The university partnered with Seddon Homes to build new dwellings in Keele village to further alleviate the nation’s housing shortage. The university made it clear in 2015 that to afford to procure New Barnes, they would have to sell – or, in their words, “release” – the Hawthorns site to Seddon Homes. There was a major stakeholder consolation that even saw the prospect of a care home being built on the site at one point. However, the university and Seddon were always hoping for a housing development, and that’s exactly what happened.
Seddon Homes’ masterplan for Keele village was initially rejected by the local parish council and was only accepted after alterations were made. By 2018 construction on the new properties was well under way.
However, there is one major negative element: price. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average UK house price for the year up to August 2020 was £256,000. According to Seddon Homes, these new houses will start at £475,000 – nearly double the national average. Remarkably, many of these houses have not yet been completed but most have already been sold, clearly showing that their construction was necessary. The development also shows that many developers, particularly in rural areas, choose to build large, expensive, and good-quality housing, rather than to go with a cheaper housing stock that will ultimately result in a high dwelling density area.
In the end, it is the classic suburban plan where homes have front gardens and there is enough space for two cars. Some of the houses also have gates and walls at the front of the property. To go this far on home security is somewhat depressing; the bordering up of homes from the outside world will exacerbate the disconnect between people and their neighbourhood.
Overall, the construction of these homes will be good for the local area and will likely attract wealth and prosperous individuals. It also allows another spec of the country’s housing shortage vacuum to be filled. Unfortunately, the roof design on many of these homes means solar panels cannot be installed. However, the quality of the housing should be the main priority, and this development on old student grounds will likely stand the test of time.