As Developers' Drive For Purpose Build Gathers Force


New plans have been announced for a ‘student mansion’ in Radford, the latest in a long line of initiatives by property developers keen to encourage students to leave privately-rented houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) in favour of purpose built student accommodation. 

According to The Nottingham Post the project, which would be situated on Player Street in Radford, would be composed of six large flats, each with 11-19 en-suite bedrooms. It is just one of many such types of accommodation in Nottingham that have recently been completed or are in the pipeline. 

Over the summer the Lawrence House building on Clarendon Street was converted into a student block for 200 people, while another 1,436 further bed spaces are to be added through various projects by September 2013. This comes at a time when there is a housing surplus for students in the city, particularly in Dunkirk and the Lenton Triangle. 

While the City Council has designated two ‘student quarters’ in areas it would like to see more student accommodation, there are doubts as to whether students will be tempted to move out. Councillor Sarah Piper is dubious as to how popular the new builds will be: “I can’t see students moving out of Lenton in any great numbers. They would have to offer a really good alternative. I don’t think that developers have ever tried to replicate what students in shared housing get.”

The Students’ Union’s position, meanwhile, remains entirely against the construction of more purpose built accommodation. The SU’s Accommodation and Community Officer Sian Green argues, “There is absolutely no evidence suggesting that students want to go into purpose built accommodation. In the last year, Opal have reduced their rates from around £130 to £60 – purpose built accommodation providers are desperate to get students into their accommodation as they are unable to fill the spaces. From our research, we know that international students often prefer to go into purpose built housing but for home students it is a very expensive option.”

The Nottingham Action Group on HMOs (NAG) has said that new purpose builds will need to take student needs into account. Maya Fletcher believes that “there is an awful lot of optimism being put into the market that is not particularly well founded. I think there will come a point, though, where pure money will dictate some movement. There is likely to be more movement from Nottingham Trent students because of their central location.

“With University of Nottingham students there are two things: they must provide an offer that is attractive in terms of how you are living i.e. not simply a ‘box’, and the accommodation must be competitively priced to compete with HMOs. Then the city centre does become attractive to live in; that is, after all, where most things happen. Flexibility must also be built in, as students may not all want to live six or eight people to a cluster; they may just want a two or three bed place”.

Dan Lucas, a member of NAG and a former University of Nottingham student, thinks that students may choose to leave Lenton if the offer is attractive: “One thing property developers can be good at is creating demand for a product that didn’t appear to exist beforehand. Maybe developers can be successful in creating a market for students in apartments in the city centre. The other thing developers are good at doing, which isn’t a good thing, is going into overkill when they see some people making money. Developers have to get the product right: they are in it for profit and, if they want customers, they have to deliver something that students will want to live in”.

Councillor Sarah Piper thinks that new tram lines are more likely to make an impact, “I think that students will be more cost-aware in future and, if they can get a new town house in another area for a much lower cost that they are currently paying then you would have to wonder whether the market would head that way”.

[Ben McCabe, writing  for Impact magazine, Issue 220, p.4, December 2012]