Exeter alumna and TV persona Katie Hopkins has caused a storm on twitter in attempts to block university accommodation expansion through linking it to a Saudi “take over”.
The university is planning new student residences at East Park which will provide space for around 1,300 students, however due to local pressure planning permission was resubmitted earlier in the year to minimise disruption to the city. The new plans for university accommodation have recently been revised yet Ms Hopkins is arguing for them to end altogether. Ms Hopkins interpreted the plans as “13 colossal towers”, however, due to the Exeter City Council Planning meeting the university has reconsidered the development and all buildings are now 3-4 storeys. These new University plans show the proposed area nearly a fifth smaller than the original planning submission and include green space as 73% of the site. As well as developing the East Park, the University also submitted plans for a redevelopment of Moberly and Spreytonway, which together will provide just over 300 bedrooms.
In an attempt to rally support against the accommodation expansion the Daily Mail columnist also used the unconnected vice-president election of Palestine rights activist, Malaka Shwaikh, to state “Saudi has big plans for your city”.
Students throughout the university spoke up in defence of recently elected VP Malaka Shwaikh; Editor Owain Evans tweeted “My favourite part is the pure incoherency. I don’t even get what her argument is, besides targeting a Muslim student”. XpressionFM journalist Edd Church agreed stating “Hopkins is abusing her international status to swing a local issue in her favour through directly attacking a student where there is simply no link between the issue she has drawn together”.
A University of Exeter Spokesperson has responded to Ms Hopkins comments:
“It is inappropriate to single out an individual student who has nothing to do with the planning process.The revised plans for the on-campus student accommodation show that it is surrounded by green space, with more than 70 per cent allocated to landscaping.The plans have been revised following consultation with local people. Two blocks have been removed and the height of three further blocks reduced. The University has drawn the development away from the eastern edge of the proposed site, closest to the neighbouring residential areas. The proposed floor space has also been reduced by more than 18 per cent from the initial outline plan.
The East Park development will also create many new jobs for local people. It reduces pressure on Exeter’s housing stock by accommodating more students on campus.”
The Students’ Guild also responded stating “Malaka has nothing to do with the University’s proposed building development… We are inclined to question the motives behind this ‘Saudi takeover’ statement of Ms Hopkins, particularly as all partners involved in the University’s project are UK-based and Malaka is a Palestinian member of the student community”. The Guild calls upon Ms. Hopkins to apologise to Malaka for the distress and offence she has caused.