It is not really within the municipality’s mandate, but the growth of WUR is nevertheless a prominent issue in the local elections in Wageningen. The main question: how much space is it acceptable for the university and its students to take up?
Directly or indirectly, the election programmes of all the Wageningen political parties running in the municipal council elections of 21 March are full of Wageningen University & Research. Numbersl students at the university have grown tremendously in recent years, and that has its implications for the town. Housing prices have risen sharply and, in spite of all the effort, there is still a serious housing shortage among students. Every party is clear about the fact that something has to be done about this. From the left-wing greens of GroenLinks to the conservatives of the VVD: everyone wants affordable housing.
Direct of indirect, de programma’s van alle Wageningse fracties die op 21 maart aan de gemeenteraadsverkiezingen meedoen, staan vol van Wageningen University & Research. De afgelopen jaren is het aantal studenten aan de universiteit flink gegroeid en dat heeft zijn weerslag op de stad. Zo zijn de huizenprijzen fors gestegen en blijft, alle inspanningen ten spijt, de kamernood onder studenten groot. Dat hier iets aan gedaan moet worden, is elke partij duidelijk. Van GroenLinks tot VVD: iedereen wil meer betaalbare woningen.
But when it comes to how to achieve this, opinions differ. GroenLinks wants more high-rise, building compactly in the town to spare the surrounding countryside. The VVD, the local Stadspartij and the Christian ChristenUnie are more cautious on this point. They feel new buildings should fit into the townscape, and they don’t think that is possible everywhere.
Views diverge on the appropriate short-term solutions too. GroenLinks thinks home owners should be allowed to convert family homes into student housing. The socialist party (SP), CDA and the Stadspartij have reservations about that. They are concerned that there should also be sufficient housing for the ‘ordinary citizen’. Students can live outside Wageningen temporarily, say these parties, although they would prefer all students to be able to live in Wageningen if they want to. The ChristenUnie would like to combine some of the student accommodation with old people’s homes, to improve social integration.
Sparing the countryside
If at all possible, most parties would like to spare the countryside from development. All the parties are against any expansion plans for the time being. Yet some building permits have already been issued, for more houses and business premises in the Nude and at Kortenoord, for instance. In the long term, some parties (VVD, SP, and to a lesser extent the centrist liberal D66) think it would be acceptable to expand the city boundaries in future if necessary.
In the issue of accessibility of the town – and in particular of WUR – opinion is divided along the same lines. The parties that want to expand into the countryside ‘if necessary’ are also prepared to do so for more roads. De facto, this positioning is just playing to the audience, since the provincial government has taken control from the municipality over the main new road plan, for a ring road around the campus. Most parties do not see it that way though, and continue to assert their standpoints. Only the new party, Connect Wageningen, says ‘that discussion is pretty much over’.
There is little difference of opinion on infrastructure for cyclists, something most parties want to invest in. Work is currently going on to create a fast cycle path from the town centre to the campus. Most parties would like to see more such paths, or at least a solution to the bottlenecks for cyclists. In order to encourage even more cycling, the SP, the labour party PvdA and the ChristenUnie want to see paid parking on campus. Other parties, such as the Stadspartij and CDA, are hesitant about that, fearing that staff will then park in the residential neighbourhoods, with all the problems that can entail. All parties agree that WUR’s expertise should be put to optimal use in the town. Parties such as GroenLinks and Connect would like to see the municipality getting involved more often in the Academic Consultancy Training course. The Stadspartij says that already happens a lot. And it warns against imagining that WUR knowledge could solve all the municipality’s problems.
The student party Connect Wageningen has the most to say about WUR and students in its programme. The party feels that students’ voices are not listened to enough and demands more attention to the welfare of international students. The party also wants the municipality to communicate more in English. Most parties go along with that, although the SP does add that Dutch shouldn’t go forgotten either. The party would like to see more free language courses made available to international students.
Few of the parties are directly critical of WUR. But some grumbles can be detected between the lines. The tremendous growth of the university brings not just new life and possible job opportunities with it, but also pressure of numbers and friction. But enforcing a slower growth rate is not feasible as it is not within the municipality’s mandate. So for the time being, the parties that are concerned about this stick to demanding more consultation.