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Student housing 'playing catch-up' in Belfast

Firm claims that even 7,500 rooms 'not enough'

By John Mulgrew

Published 19/01/2016

An artist’s impression of UniCiti’s proposed student development on York Street
An artist’s impression of UniCiti’s proposed student development on York Street

Belfast will still be lagging behind other university cities in the UK even if the 7,500 student rooms currently proposed get the go-ahead, one major developer has claimed.

The city council is to decide tonight whether five out of 16 planned managed student developments can get the green light.

That includes a 590-bedroom, 92 studio-room, development at York Street by UK property firm UniCiti.

But two others are being put forward for refusal.

However, the optimism among developers that there will be a big demand in Belfast has been met with some scepticism from those in the private student housing market.

But according to UniCiti, even if all 7,500 managed beds were approved, it would account for just 23% of available student beds - a lower proportion than many other cities. At this capacity, two reports suggest Belfast would still lag behind other similarly-sized university cities.

UniCiti partner Paul Wilkinson said that a study by Liverpool City Council found that the typical saturation point for managed accommodation "was around 40% of all student beds in a city".

"When we announced our plans in August, we claimed that Belfast was playing catch-up with other modern universities, where purpose-built managed student accommodation is the norm.

“Our proposals at York Street and Little Patrick Street amount to a little more than 2% of all student beds in Belfast. At present, despite having two large universities, only 3,759 managed beds are available or approved.

“We understand that not all proposals can, or will, be approved and built.

“However, if all 7,500 proposed managed beds were given permission they would together account for only 23% of student beds.” Edinburgh currently has 32% of its student rooms as managed accommodation, while Glasgow has 25%.

But Dairmid Laird of letting agents Laird — which specialising in student properties — is sceptical about demand for the developments.

“They (managed student rooms) are generally £450 to £500 a month, and that doesn’t compare favourably to houses or apartments.

“A lot of students can’t afford that. Some overseas students will be able to, but there are a lot, who but for the fact student accommodation is available, couldn’t afford to study.

“We don’t want to price students out of accommodation, and affording accommodation shouldn’t be a barrier to anyone getting access to third level education.”

He said many of the developments “could struggle” to fill their rooms.

“I don’t think that all the accommodation will be built. There are only a certain number of local students who are prepared to pay £450.”

Some initial developments, such as the new 413-room development at the former Belfast Metropolitan College building at College Square East, are quoting weekly prices from £120, including other costs such as electricity and gas.

But that contrasts with some cheap student homes in areas in south Belfast, which can go for as little as £180 a month.

There are around 15,000 students at the Ulster University, across its Jordanstown and Belfast campuses, with many set to move to the city during the next year. But only a fraction of those are first-year undergraduates.

One Belfast landlord, who owns several student properties in south Belfast, challenged many of the plans already in the works.

“You would wonder where the demand has come from,” he said.

Meanwhile, two proposed

developments are being put forward for refusal at tonight’s planning meeting, including a small city centre project at Royal Avenue.

And plans to demolish buildings close to the Carrick Hill area of north Belfast to make way for a larger student housing project, have also been put forward for refusal.

Belfast Telegraph

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