FOR THOSE of you not familiar with the Aberystwyth University’s new £45m hall of residence, Fferm Penglais/Penglais Farm, you’re probably not familiar with the friction it’s causing with Aberystwyth’s local businesses. Fferm Penglais was opened in January 2015 after a delay and boasts the very latest in purpose-built en-suite student accommodation, including large en-suite bedrooms with double beds and walk-in showers, as well as impressive communal areas (which also have cooking facilities, sofas and a wall mounted TV with the licence included).
Penglais Farm also contains a convenient central service area that provides laundrettes, stores, social and sporting facilities. However, the convenience of Fferm Penglais is where the problem lies for local businesses. Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce has warned businesses could close if student spending became focused on the campus. Apparently less and less people are now choosing to live in town (whether that be private student housing or in university accommodation along the seafront) with more and more people opting to live on top of Penglais Hill, either on campus or in the surrounding areas.
In my opinion, it is unlikely that the existence and even possible expansion of Fferm Penglais and its facilities will cause the town to simply disappear. Aberystwyth is the oldest university in Wales and, as such, the town and the student community have been intertwined since the university’s establishment, to the point where now it could be argued that the town relies on its student community for survival in more ways than one. If Aberystwyth University and its student population were to vanish overnight then a vast number of local businesses (shops, cafés, takeaways, pubs, clubs and taxi services etc.) would be hit particularly hard and likely many businesses would have to close permanently under the economic implications. Also, Aberystwyth’s entire image and environment would become radically altered by the disappearance or near-disappearance of its student community, if that were to happen.
However, it is the town’s size, the town’s atmosphere and the various sites around the town (whether that be the historic promenade, the much toured castle ruins or a breath-taking view from on top of Constitution Hill) that attract so many students to Aberystwyth. Although that might not sound like much of an attraction to study in Aberystwyth, just remember that Aberystwyth was officially crowned the UK’s Greatest Town at the prestigious Academy of Urbanism 2015 Awards in November 2014.
Even if student attraction to the town centre during the day (i.e. for shopping and eating out) was damaged by the expansion of campus facilities, it is unlikely that this would have much of an effect on Aberystwyth’s ‘night-time economy’. With over 50 licenced venues (such as Aberystwyth’s wide selection of pubs and, on the other-hand, its somewhat-disappointing grand total of two nightclubs), it is never difficult finding a place to drink. Although I believe that the university could continue to expand its on-campus facilities for the purposes of creating more attractions and entertainments for students, it is also critical that the town’s role in Aberystwyth’s past, present and future not be downplayed.