How on earth did this happen?

The local pre-election debate is clearly showing that there is huge pent up frustration at the destructive effects that Royal Holloway’s expansion is having on our communities and neighbourhoods.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in particular have been the subject of many comments on social media and so, with the election just days away now, we thought that we would take a closer look at this topic and see if it has its roots in local politics.

A document recently produced by the Planning Policy Team of Runnymede Borough Council included a graph showing the numbers of HMOs in Egham and Englefield Green in comparison to the other wards in Runnymede.

Source: Council Tax Data

Local residents will not be surprised that, in respect of the licenced HMOs in Egham and Englefield Green, the Planning Policy Team claimed that:

“These clusters of HMOs are thought to be as a result of private rented student accommodation for those studying at the nearby Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL).

The document goes on to explain that:

“Royal Holloway is located in Englefield Green and has seen continuous growth over recent years, with the most recent total for the year 2022/23, standing at 11,732 students.  The university has set itself a target, in its Strategic Plan 2021-24, of increasing its student numbers to around 15,000 by 2029-30.”

Local residents will know that the issue with HMOs is more than just the numbers on a graph though: it’s the consequences of so many HMOs being occupied by students.  Indeed, the Runnymede Planning Policy Team goes on to explain that:

“The potential impacts of concentrations of HMOs in an area, and particularly those relating to student HMOs, can include the following:

  • Increase in population densities resulting in increases in domestic refuse, litter (e.g. fast food and pizza boxes) and fly-tipping of unwanted household items (e.g. discarded beds/mattresses, sofas and fridges);
  • The removal of hedges, fences, gates, and gardens for driveways;
  • The proliferation of ‘to-let’ boards, unkempt gardens and yards;
  • Dilapidated external residential facades and the disrepair of housing (depending on the landlord);
  • The exclusion of local families and low-income individuals and households from the local housing market;
  • The replacement / displacement of local families by transient student populations;
  • The marginalisation and polarisation of local families;
  • The gradual closure of local crèches, nurseries and schools, and other community facilities;
  • The loss of family-oriented public and private services;
  • Higher levels of burglary and crime;
  • The formation of a new sense of place, and a different type of ambience in the neighbourhood;
  • Room arrangements and a lifestyle which can exacerbate noise nuisance (e.g. parties, higher occupancy levels in HMO);
  • The conflicts between the everyday living routines (e.g. timing of work, play and sleep) of established residents and many students;
  • Increased car parking and congestion;

If you recognise any of these impacts you may well ask yourself, “If concentrations of student HMOs can be so detrimental to communities, how has it been allowed to happen here?”  Well, to answer that question, we have to go back about ten years – or even longer – to the inception of the Royal Holloway Outline Master Plan which, of course, was the trigger for the unprecedented expansion of the college which, in turn, has resulted in so many more students being drawn into this area.

Understandably, plans such as Royal Holloway’s Master Plan take months, if not years, to develop and it is, perhaps, worth noting that, in the years before the Master Plan was finally approved by Runnymede Borough Council’s Planning Committee, Conservative Councillor Geoffrey Woodger (Virginia Water) and Conservative Councillor Hugh Mears (Englefield Green West) were also members of Royal Holloway’s Council.

Royal Holloway was clearly pleased with Conservative Councillor Woodger’s services because, in 2011, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the university: an award which, according to the university’s website, is made “to people who have shown loyalty and commitment to the university.”  So, by the time of the vote by RBC’s Planning Committee on the university’s Master Plan in January 2015, he was both Chairman of the Planning Committee and an Honorary Fellow of Royal Holloway!

‘Honorary Fellowships of Royal Holloway, University of London are awarded to people who have shown loyalty and commitment to the university.’

We’ve managed to obtain a copy of the minutes of the Planning Committee’s decision at that January meeting and while they show that Councillor Woodger declared his personal interest in Royal Holloway and withdrew from the Chair for this particular decision, his fellow Conservative Party colleagues (including previous Royal Holloway Council member Hugh Meares) went on to vote unanimously in favour of Royal Holloway’s planning application – except for just one:


  • Jim Broadhead (Conservative)
  • Derek Cotty (Conservative)
  • Mrs Dolse Clarke (Conservative)
  • Richard Edis (Conservative)
  • John Edwards (Conservative)
  • Mrs L M Gillham (Independent)
  • Mrs Gail Kingerley (Conservative)
  • Mike Kusneraitis (Conservative)
  • Mrs Yvonna Lay (Conservative)
  • Hugh Meares (Conservative)
  • David Parr (Conservative)
  • Gill Warner (Conservative)


  • John Ashmore (Independent)
  • Howard Butterfield (Conservative)

One potential glimmer of hope was recorded in the minutes though, when the Planning Committee acknowledged that: “in considering the Masterplan, the needs of the University has to be balanced against the interests of the communities of Egham and Englefield Green.”

As we explained in our ‘Election Special’, the Conservatives have been the majority party in Runnymede for many years now and certainly were at, and since, the approval of Royal Hollow’s Master Plan.  As the majority party, one might have thought that at least the Conservative Councillors in the immediate wards would have stepped up and used that power to ensure that, as the college expanded and the issues of HMOs, ASB and parking problems started to emerge, the interests of the communities that voted for those councillors were protected and balanced against the interests of the university.  But did they?  Well the answer to that is probably in the graph of HMOs above.

All this has happened under a Conservative majority that voted for the expansion of the college and then just let it happen.

So can the problems be fixed?  Well that may depend on how you vote next week – but beware!

Attentive readers may have already noticed the student numbers in the quote from the Planning Policy Team’s document above.  When the Master Plan was submitted to RBC for planning approval, it was based on a student population of 12,000 by 2031.  However, in its revised Strategic Plan, Royal Holloway now proposes a figure of 15,000 students by 2029-30 and that is the number that RBC is now using.  That’s another 3,000 students – 25% more – which Royal Holloway describes as a modest increase!

It’s inevitable that some of these will be looking for accommodation in our community thereby adding to the pressure on housing which could be occupied by families.

Two local independent councillors, Isabel Mullens (Egham Town) and Andrea Berardi (Englefield Green East), having been working on the introduction of an Article 4 Direction which could make the creation of more HMOs subject to the planning process.  However, this initiative has some way to go yet and would have to be approved by a majority of councillors.  The voting record for Royal Holloway’s Master Plan already shows though, that the Conservatives choose Royal Holloway expansion over the concerns of their constituents and Conservative Councillor Nick Prescott (Englefield Green West) has already been briefing against measures that could help curb the number of HMOs – such as the Article 4 Direction.

If there is a chance to make any progress then, it’s really important that the Conservatives do not maintain the majority that they’ve held while watching our communities deteriorate.  At the moment, Runnymede Conservatives have a majority of 4 seats and two of these will be decided in Englefield Green on 4th May.  Local elections are about these local issues and not about deciding the MP that will represent you in Parliament so please follow the advice in our Election Special and vote to improve our community.