Belfast Telegraph

Sale of Belfast student accommodation site 'is a sign the bubble may have burst'

By John Mulgrew

The site for one of Belfast's largest proposed student developments is being sold off, prompting speculation the student housing bubble may have burst.

Developer UniCiti wanted to build an 11-storey scheme with 354 bedrooms at Little Patrick Street.

Now the vacant land is being marketed and sold off as a "student development opportunity".

The project was given planning permission by Belfast City Council last year.

But now the land has gone on the market with commercial property firm Savills for an undisclosed price. The original site invited offers of £325,000 when put up for sale.

Promotional material for the development said that "the property is perfectly positioned for student accommodation, approximately 200m from the new Ulster University campus and 350m from the Central Library".

UniCiti is behind another major student accommodation development here.

Plans have been submitted for the building at York Street, which could include more than 700 rooms.

Its Little Patrick Street scheme hit a wall early last year after planners originally recommended it for refusal.

UniCiti argued it would be worth around £14m to Belfast's economy.

Planners said it "should be refused as insufficient amenity space and outlook has been provided within the scheme to ensure a quality residential environment for future residents, and insufficient information has been submitted".

However, it was then revised down from 380 to 354 bedrooms, and was subsequently approved.

No one from UniCiti was available for comment.

Some 7,500 student beds are currently at various stages of development across Belfast.

Around 3,000 have already been given the green light, with many of those in and around the York Street area, close to the new Ulster University campus.

But according to a study last year by UniCiti, even if all managed beds were approved, it would account for just 23% of available student beds, which is a lower proportion than many other cities.

But Dairmid Laird of letting agents Laird said that he didn't believe there was the demand for the thousands of student rooms already been awarded planning permission.

"It's not a matter of a bubble burst, but that a bubble never existed," he said.

"These companies are trying to put an English university city jacket on Belfast, but the make-up of our student body is different to practically every other university city in the UK."

He said he believed students will continue to favour cheaper, privately-owned housing over purpose-built accommodation.

Earlier this month a major student development initially refused permission was given the go-ahead following the first appeal of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The now-revised 393-bedroom building is to be developed close to Library Street in the city centre. The scheme was knocked back by Belfast City Council planners in January 2016.

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