Alex Britton (Nottingham Post on Saturday 7 March 2015) writes on the front page and in an inside feature ...

Council: We need MORE student flats
(And that's in addition to the thousands already planned)

The city council wants to see even more student flats built in Nottingham – despite 1,247 already in the pipeline to be built.

There are plans to create a student quarter on Talbot Street and seven schemes are being completed across the city.

Nottingham City Council conducted a study into the student flats market, which concluded the vacancy rate in the city was only 1.6 per cent leaving room for further developments.

Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for planning, said: "The vacancy rate is low – it's something like 300 beds and that's a good thing. If we allow students to live in purpose-built blocks in city centre, it helps Nottingham to be lived-in and vibrant rather than a place where everything shuts when the shops shut."

But landlords who own more traditional student digs say the council's preference for purpose-built blocks is damaging business. Shad Ali, of the Arboretum, owns a number of houses which he lets out to students. He said: "Students don't want to be forced to live in these glorified youth clubs, they want their options kept open.

"The city council is clearly in favour of moving students away from neighbourhoods like Lenton and the Arboretum, but this would come at the cost of landlords who have spent 20 years building up their portfolios."

Students and residents seem divided on the idea of more student flats. Daniel Harrington, 22, of Dunkirk, studies at the University of Nottingham and said he thought the balance of housing was just right. He said: "It has to be horses for courses. Some want to live in flats in the city, others want to move in with friends in a real house."

One Lenton resident, who didn't wish to be named, said: "Students cause problems here. The noise causes problems for families."

More Student flats on the way

While it may seem that plans for new student flats are announced every other week, Nottingham City Council has said there is still a gap in the market – for the right type of accommodation.

City centre buildings and former office blocks have been converted over the years to house the city's growing student population.

Although there is a perception that these blocks struggle to find tenants, a new Nottingham City Council report says the vacancy rate is as low as 1.6 per cent.

The report was ordered to discover if the market was hitting saturation point.

And the results mean the council's policy of promoting purpose built student accommodation will continue.

Jane Urquhart, portfolio holder for planning at Nottingham City Council, said: "I'm always very sceptical of anecdotal stories.

"They are sometimes a starting point, but we needed a survey."

Ms Urquhart added that future developments of student flats will look to 'future proof' them, to make sure they are easy to convert into general housing if the market changes.

She said: "What we want to do with our next local planning policy document is to strengthen it.

"We want to ensure student accommodation applications are justified in terms of an identified need.

"In recent times that has been international students because that's been an area of growth for both universities."

The council's back-up plan if student numbers decline already has a blueprint in the Graystacks building on Castle Boulevard.

Ms Urquhart said: "We think that a good design like the Graystacks development is something that students want, and also were there to be a change in student numbers in the future, we want conversion to good quality all-purpose housing to be possible."

But landlord Shad Ali – who lets out his portfolio to students – feels the city council's preference to have people living in blocks of flats is damaging.

He said: "Students just want to be given the choice.

"The costs of some of these purpose built blocks is incredible. Some of them are £130 a week, compared to many other homes for £75.

"Forcing students into blocks will force them to pay more.

"Not all students want to live in a block with noise on the corridors, a launderette downstairs and all facilities on site.

"Some of them want to have the experience of living in a real house with their friends."

But Nigel Jones, head of property and projects for Kaplan International, said his company's development of the old Odeon cinema was ideal for international students.

He said: "Our approach creates a caring home from home, from the minute students land in the UK with airport pick-ups, beds made up for them after their long flights and all kitchen equipment provided.

"Comprehensive social programmes encourage students to mix, socialise and improve their English levels."

Students seem to be split on whether city living is for them.

Daniel Harrington, 22, from Oxfordshire but currently living in Dunkirk, said: "I like the feel of living in a real home, not a hotel. I know it's not for everyone though."

But Patrick Wilson, of Clarendon Street, said: "I prefer living on my own and student blocks work for me. You've got to have a bit of all types of housing though to give people the option."