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Another campus supermarket is asking too much

Image credit: The Guardian
Image credit: The Guardian
Image credit: The Guardian

Take the No. 66 bus to the York Sport Village and you won’t be able to miss the mud, scaffolding and holes that decorate the midsection of Heslington East. In the course of a few years, the University of York plans to construct two new colleges, a new health centre, a small supermarket and more teaching blocks. 

Heslington East campus is, perhaps being harsh, a ghost town. Tumbleweed can occasionally be seen rolling across the paths between bus stops. Goodricke College is lucky to have some company in the forms of a few academic apartments (as well as the Catalyst – does anyone know what happens there?) but Langwith and Constantine Colleges stand lonely in the biting wind. At the far end of the campus is the York Sport Village and its new cycling track. Besides these buildings, there is very little. There are no supermarkets, no pharmacies, no doctor’s surgeries and no beautiful spaces. There is one cash point next to a single YUSU restaurant, The Glasshouse (which isn’t half bad, I should say). Scaffolding and disturbed land carves up the campus and the southern lake is a depressing brown-green marshland. The university Sub-Aqua Club is after permission to dive in it, though, even as a member member, I’d be hesitant about descending into that. Heslington West is the place to be for life and fun on campus – I don’t know many Easterners who’d disagree.

Having spent a lot of time on that side of the university in my first year of study, I appreciate how frustrating it must be for the students who live there for them to travel to Heslington West for the majority of their lectures and seminars, their NISA needs and their appointments in the campus doctor’s surgery. Having some services would vastly improve the lives of Heslington East students, ending their repetitive, monotonous bus journeys to the other side each day.

But when I ride the 66 from West to East and pass the building site that is meant to be the new Heslington East, I wish it were not there at all. As much as Heslington East is in need of a huge injection of colour and ability, having our own services is a detriment (and maybe even an insult) to so many businesses operating in York.

I have no opposition to a second medical centre on university grounds. The Unity Health Centre on Heslington West is already bulging with students in their waiting room. Student numbers grow yearly and illness won’t go away; creating a second medical centre will spread the demand and enable more ill students to be seen by doctors. If the plan is, however, to shut Unity Health Centre and relocate it, I don’t see much benefit to everyone involved unless the new health centre is twice the size of its predecessor.

But asking for a supermarket and a pharmacy is really asking for too much. Right now, it is common to see a delivery van arriving or departing both sides of the university campus. We’ve all gone shopping in person once, discovered the miracle of online ordering and deemed it far easier than walking miles across the city with carrier bags gluing us to the floor.

Having a supermarket on campus would be an excellent convenience for students, but what about for local businesses? Think of the demand that would be lost if a supermarket were to open on campus. We’ve already got NISA – a second, larger supermarket would be the nail in the coffin. A pharmacy would be a fantastic way for students to pick up prescriptions quickly and easily, but that will mean fewer customers for every other pharmacy near the campus.

Local businesses will not take kindly to the existence of a campus alternative. Many York outlets are generous enough to give us discounts or student-only deals. If they know that we’d rather go to our campus shop than theirs, away go our discounts and deals.

Students are of course pushed for cash throughout their time and university; many of us will be wracked with debts for years to come following our graduation. Asking students to foot so many bills can put real obstacles in their path as they try to complete their studies. Without bursaries and other forms of financial assistance, some students would not be able to join the rest of us in the lecture halls and write their dissertations. It is therefore kind of so many places to charge us less than they would the average person, as they also do for the elderly and members of the armed services. But asking for such grandiose on-campus provisions is a slap to the faces of so many businesses that don’t just offer their services at a smaller price but sometimes depend on the student body to make their money and survive as companies.

This is not the first time that Jack Harvey has taken the side of businesses on the topic of campus services; click here to read his argument against a campus nightclub.