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Lead pipes and room shortages: Anne’s accommodation drama

Bintia Dennog reports.

Students at St Anne’s College are becoming increasingly dissatisfied following recent accommodation updates, including the discovery of lead pipes in an accommodation block, and planned renovations which will create a room shortage and require students to move out of college. 

Students discovered lead pipes in one of the on-site kitchens after a parent, who happened to be a plumber, noticed them. The affected students emailed the college and pressed for a reply, upon which St. Annes confirmed that there was indeed lead pipework.

The use of lead in water pipes has been banned since the 1970s. Exposure to large amounts of lead can be harmful to health, potentially leading to intellectually disabling lead poisoning.  

Whilst the college acknowledged that “there may be some concerns over the safe use of water”, it ultimately only advised the students to regularly flush the pipes. According to a student who attended an estates meeting, there is not enough lead piping for it to be harmful. A water hygiene company also regularly monitors and samples the water. 

St Anne’s commented on the matter, expressing that the water is safe, and is tested regularly, explaining: “A short piece of lead piping is present in one house. This is not unusual in older buildings. The Estates Manager has offered to meet with any residents of that house who have concerns.”

Students are equally expressing concern regarding the “Bevington Road project,” a renovation of on-site accommodation which “massively reduces” room availability. The renovation is expected to last for two years, where students are expected to move out to college off-site accommodation in Summertown, which is a 25 minute walk from St. Anne’s. An email to students from St Anne’s claimed that “a large number of students” will also need to organise their own accommodation in addition to moving many students off-site. 

St Anne’s told Cherwell that in order to avoid requiring all second years to “live out,” undergraduates “will be given the opportunity to choose rooms in a number of flats in Summertown that are usually allocated to post graduate students.”

A current first year student claimed this was particularly frustrating, as “many people applied as one of their big selling points was 3 years of onsite accommodation.” The college-owned off-site accommodation, which was previously classed as “living out” of college, will from now on also be classified as “in-college”. Consequently, students on a four year course, who were guaranteed three years in college, might actually only spend two years living inside the college. 

The college claims that the project is essential however, and the houses are in need of “significant renovation” in order to bring the accommodation up to date, to reduce the environmental impact and costs of heating and maintaining them, and to increase the number of rooms available for student occupation.

A further issue for the students is that most tenancy agreements outside of college are for 37 weeks, which will put students under significant financial strain, especially those who don’t require accommodation during vacations. Whilst St. Anne’s has suggested there will be some flexibility with the tenancy length, the extent of this remains unclear. One student voiced concern about the uncertainty of the whole situation, calling it “stressful and overwhelming”. 

A Crankstart scholar  told Cherwell that she chose St. Annes primarily due to “cheaper accommodation prices” as it “seemed like the most financially accessible college. She called the current situation “particularly worrying”, since the cost of living crisis already creates financial uncertainty and having to potentially pay for accommodation over the vacations only adds to this. Finding a group with a similar budget to live with is also particularly hard after only 5 weeks at university. Moreover, she stated that “[t]he most affordable properties are in Headington, [which is] an hour’s walk away from college”. 

An Oxfess post detailing the current accommodation struggles exclaimed: “Surely by now people have to see how St Anne’s is the worst Oxford college.”

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