VICE CHANCELLOR Tim Wheeler said the University of Chester takes its responsibilities to students and the community ‘very seriously’.
The professor was addressing a meeting of residents called by Chester Conservatives to talk about the university’s planned purchase of County Hall for £10m.
People living in nearby Handbridge fear large properties will be turned into houses of multiple occupancy creating a ‘student ghetto’, changing the character of the area as happened in Garden Lane near the Parkgate Road campus.
But Prof Wheeler claimed a decision to locate the faculties of education and children’s services and health and social care in County Hall, with a potential 1,300 students together with up to 300 staff, would minimise the impact on neighbouring communities.
Prof Wheeler said: “I can understand the concerns but it’s frankly a misconception of what we are doing here.”
He said there were about 800 students in education and children’s services but much of their time was spent in the classroom and many did not live in Chester.
There were about 3,000 students on the health and social care course training to be nurses and midwives.
But Prof Wheeler explained that they were mainly based around the Countess of Chester, Warrington General, Leighton and Clatterbridge hospitals and ‘would not be major uses of County Hall’ which would be the administrative headquarters of the department.
“Last year only 12 students wanted the university to provide residential accommodation and that’s the general order of magnitude,” added Prof Wheeler, who expects to spend £2m converting County Hall.
Many residents see the University of Chester as an uncontrolled beast whose tentacles are slowing stretching out across the city.
But Vice Chancellor Tim Wheeler said “worries about untrammelled growth are not there”.
He said there were 15,000 students – about 6,000 of whom are part-timers – but the university was only allowed to increase its numbers by 79 this year.
Prof Wheeler anticipates growth in the areas of research, consultancy and community-related work, which is about 20% of current activity.
Prof Wheeler believes the County Hall scheme will inject life into the city centre citing the increasing number of empty shops.
“If you go around The Rows at the moment we certainly need some investment to kick-start the economy in very difficult circumstances.”
The expansion of the university is now impacting on all areas of the city.
And south of the river there have been concerns about the university’s plans to take over Chester youth hostel in Hough Green which is currently with the planning department.
Prof Wheeler said the university had a shortage of accommodation for mature post-graduate education students and envisaged having a use for the building for about four to five years.
Meeting chairman Cllr Tom Parry told the audience the university’s planning application to change County Hall into an educational facility would be heard before planning board A in Chester on September 15.
If planning permission is granted Prof Tim Wheeler hopes the financial deal with the council can be concluded at the end of September or early October.