ANGER threatened to boil over at times as Durham University bosses hosted a forum for local residents to have their say on its plans for the future.

“Does the university have to be bigger to be better?” was one of the big questions of the night, as more than 200 people turned out to discuss the university’s growth.

The engagement event follows the development of Durham’s ten-year strategy, aimed at improving its facilities, developing its reputation as a world-class university and increasing student numbers to about 21,500 by 2017.

The at-times heated debate raised questions over whether growth was necessary at all and concerns about the impact on the city, unbalanced communities and student housing.

Vice-chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge said: “We consider ourselves to be a highly ambitious university in a highly ambitious city.

“We have adopted a new strategy to get us to 2027. We have tried to be extremely transparent in how we think its necessary as we aspire to be a world class university in County Durham.”

One man, summing up his table’s view, said: “We are angry. We are angry about expansion. We are angry about this word ambition and the greed. We would really like to ask as a small city why are we competing with much bigger ones?

“You have outsourced accommodation to the city and the city has died because of people buying the houses and turning them into HMOs. There’s a shortage of young people. We don’t see children in the city. Durham city is a classic failure of town planning.”

There were calls for the university to provide more of its own accommodation in the future. It has said it plans to house at least 50 per cent of students in the future.

City resident Ann Evans said: “The ambition to accommodate 50 per cent in university accommodation is too feeble. They should be looking at a much higher percentage – 70 or 80 per cent and they shouldn’t be increasing numbers until they are able to do that.”

John Lowe, who is part of the city’s neighbourhood planning forum, said: “The city has lost its identity and become a campus. There’s not enough housing for long term residents in the city centre. Durham is already too small for the number of students and the planned growth will make it worse.

“The university must provide accommodation of its own and in proportion to any growth in student numbers.”

Addressing Prof Corbridge, Mark Gilbank, from West Rainton, who asked Prof Corbridge to postpone future development, said: “The city can’t continue the way it has. We’re only a small city. In reality we are a town with a university attached.

“We should be proud but there are a lot of people who aren’t proud because of the situation we are in.”

Another commentator added: “The city is ill at ease with itself. That’s apparent to residents but also to students. Students feel uncomfortable as well. The sense of a balanced community is really important.”

Looking to the future, questions were asked about whether the university could fund a project to bring HMOs back into use as family housing as the amount of purpose built student accommodation blocks grows, whether it could take on some of the privately built accommodation, whether future buildings could have more community use and whether future expansion could happen elsewhere in County Durham.

Residents were assured that there would be future engagement soon.

Prof Corbridge added: “We need a bit of time to digest everything that’s come out today. We want a bit of time to think about what we have been able to discuss as a community at this event.”