Jan 22
student development land

Is your land suitable for student housing development?

In our latest blog post we look at the key considerations for landowners when determining if student accommodation is a viable option for development.

With record numbers of students now going to university, the purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) market has boomed over the last two decades.

In fast-growing university towns and cities across the UK, demand for land suitable for student accommodation has soared and shows little sign of abating.

But how do you know if your land could be used for student accommodation and how do you go about progressing a deal? Here’s some of main considerations.

The planning environment

The view taken towards student housing by local planning authorities depends largely on where in the country your land opportunity is.

Student accommodation has historically sat outside traditional use classes so hasn’t been subject to significant Section 106 affordable housing contributions.

In London this is set to change under the draft New London Plan which, as it stands, means new student developments have to provide affordable student housing AND have a nominations agreement with a London-based university. This doesn’t rule out new PBSA investment altogether but may make is harder to develop in London.

In the regions, the planning environment is somewhat simpler, particularly as new planning guidance requires local authorities to account for student housing need in their local plans. So, if they can count PBSA towards meeting their housing need figure, we should see planning authorities showing more willingness to work with student housing developers.

Proximity to campus and amenities

The proximity of student accommodation to campuses and / or town centre amenities is a big pull for students, so land in these locations is more viable for developers and investors. If your site is closer to a local university campus than the official halls of residence, for example, then that will be very attractive to students.

Even if the site isn’t within walking distance, a student accommodation development may still be viable providing there is good transport links in the form of bus routes, tramways or cycle paths. Closeness to bars, restaurants, cinemas and other leisure attractions will also be valuable.

We talk more about the importance of location to students and investors in a previous blog post on investing in student accomodation.

Site geography and footprint

In addition to location, the geography and topography of the site itself will be another consideration. For example, how constrained is the site by other buildings? Does it have good access? What has the site been used for previously and are there any contamination issues? If the site is difficult and costly to remediate this might affect its viability for use as a student scheme.

Impact on the community

While not the primary concern, it’s prudent to think about how the community may react to proposals for a student accommodation development on the land you own.

Residents in communities where there is already a glut of student accommodation may be more likely to oppose additional student schemes if they deem there is already too much of it. Similarly, areas where there has been no previous student accommodation may eye planning applications for student housing suspiciously. This can result in adverse publicity and hence opposition to a scheme.

It’s therefore important to get the right planning advice and work with a development partner that can help manage the whole process, including consultation with stakeholders, for you.

Choosing the right development partner

Partnering with an experienced developer with the expertise and funds to get student accommodation schemes through the planning process can help you reduce financial risk.

Look for a developer with a track record of delivering well-designed schemes and one that uses experienced architects, planning consultants and contractors.

Fraser Morgan works with landowners across the UK to advise on options for residential development. For more information, contact Mark Robinson.

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