A CITY councillor has hit out at claims new student housing blocks are “freeing up” family homes for York people to rent and buy.

Cllr Mark Warters said his experience as a ward councillor in Osbaldwick, near the University of York campus, was at odds with the claim that students are moving out of houses and into purpose built blocks.

What’s more, he says, the city council’s own figures show that more and more York houses are exempt from council tax because they are only occupied by students - but the “freeing up” argument is still being used to justify the construction of student housing blocks.

Cllr Warters said: “Whenever any of these come up at planning committee, we hear this statement but there are never any figures to back it up.”

The row has been sparked by a petition launched this week, which calls on City of York Council planners to focus on affordable homes rather than student halls and luxury flats.

Responding to that petition, city planning boss Mike Slater said: “Off-campus, purpose-built student accommodation is very popular with students at universities across the UK, not just in York, and frees up family homes for sale or rent in the private sector.”

However, in 2017/18 2,796 homes were given student council tax exemptions - up 10 per cent on the previous year - while another 304 “class M” exemptions were given out to student halls of residence.

The number of student house exemptions is still around 200 homes or 10 per cent higher than in 2011.

At the same time, Cllr Warters said he has seen no slow down in the number of people applying for HMO (house of multiple occupancy) licences to convert houses in Osbaldwick into shared homes.

However, City of York Council bosses pointed to growing numbers of students coming to the city and said the growing demand for specialised student accommodation was a national trend - and not unique to York - and said the new facilities do help ease pressures on the domestic housing market and “may help slow” the number of applications for HMOs.

Pauline Stuchfield, the council’s assistant director of customer and digital services, said: “The high quality of university education and the experience of living in York, is attracting more students.

“In turn this creates more jobs in the academic and service sectors.

“Growth in student numbers is evidenced by increases in class M council tax exemptions which are for students in halls. In 2017/18 there were 304 exemptions with a total value of £433,347 and in 2016/17 there were 281 valued at £392,645.”