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It’s time to repurpose the first generation of purpose-built student accommodation

A new wave of purpose-built student accommodation offers a higher grade of living space in better locations, says Jennifer Heron. So what do we do with the redundant stock?

Student accommodation has become an important part of the country’s property sector, with a boom in delivery in recent years. 

Whilst the long-term impacts of Covid-19 on this market are unknown, more recently, the immediate implications have resulted in soaring vacancy rates and a potential drop-off in student intake for the new academic year. 

In addition, there is a continuing shift in what students expect from their accommodation with potential implications for the first generation of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA).

Newer PBSA is often located centrally, close to university campuses. This represents a clear benefit for students, compared to accommodation located on the periphery, in terms of convenience for both academic and social activity. 

Indeed, planning policies such as Newcastle City Council’s Core Strategy and Urban Core Plan Policy CS11 support this trend, setting out that “Promoting lifetime neighbourhoods…will be achieved by…Focusing the provision of purpose built student accommodation within the Urban Core”.

“Even if existing older stock is brought up to similar standards, their peripheral location remains”

This means that any new PBSA schemes will be better located compared to those that have been built outside of the defined urban core. 

Newer PBSA typically boasts facilities such as 5G, en-suites, double beds and well-designed communal areas, meaning significant changes are needed to bring older accommodation up to the standards expected by students today. 

Even if existing older stock is brought up to similar standards, their peripheral location remains with a risk of more peripheral schemes becoming obsolete. 

However, with these challenges comes opportunity. We are in the midst of a housing crisis; with a national ambition to deliver 300,000 new homes each year for families, first time buyers, renters, young professionals and older people. 

With strong demand across such a broad demographic comes a similarly broad housing requirement. 

Whilst the first generation PBSA may not be as centrally located to university campuses as newer PBSA, they are generally on the periphery of towns and cities, with good public transport links, existing infrastructure and some with car parking provided. 

There is a clear opportunity to repurpose older PBSA stock to better balance demand and supply whilst helping to meet the housing needs of a different sector of society. 

This could include apartments for older people or young professionals, both of whom typically seek well located and connected accommodation. Indeed, there is clear merit in integrating the two to help form a balanced and mixed community.

Should this opportunity be pursued, as ever, there are numerous considerations that would need to be accounted for when seeking planning permission to change the use from PBSA to general housing. 

“There is a clear opportunity to repurpose older PBSA stock to better balance demand and supply whilst helping to meet the housing needs of a different sector of society”

This includes ensuring that requisite space and parking standards can be achieved; whether there is sufficient public open space serving the development – a point of increasing importance in a Covid-19 world; and financial implications resulting from relevant CIL (or its replacement) charges or affordable housing requirements in a local area. 

If these factors cannot be achieved or render reconfiguring PBSA unviable, it leaves the question of what will happen to the legacy of any redundant first general PBSA and whether conversion into other uses is achievable or site clearance and redevelopment is the better option. 

Jennifer Heron is associate director with Lichfields

Photo l Shutterstock


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