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November 2017

Does it add up – are there too many student flats for Cardiff?

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Cardiff is experiencing an explosion in student accommodation, in the last few years there have been some 20 developments granted or expected to receive planning permission. Over 4,000 new flats coming on stream, including flats in what will become Wales’ tallest building.

The Press reported this week  on a second block of student flats that wants permission for a change of use to let rooms to non-student due to the lack of demand. As reported, purpose-built student flats are often built to lower standards and cost less than open market residential flats and are usually require less onerous planning obligations.

This move by the landlord has been partly explained as a response to the completion of a development ahead (or possibly behind) schedule and the proposed temporary non-student occupancy is to ensure the flats do not remain empty until the beginning of the academic year next September/October 2018. This may be so, but there has been more than one scheme seeking or already with approval to change to non-student accommodation. At the same time, there have been clear statements of how difficult the student market conditions have become.

It will be interesting to see how successful and trouble free a temporary letting strategy will be for the landlords. It seems there is only enough time for a short-term lease of about 6 months if enough time is allowed to return and repair the flats ready for student arriving late summer 2018. This is likely to have limited appeal to general needs tenants, and may only appeal to social rent tenants and meet emergency housing needs. In a city with a large homeless and rough sleeping problem, these flats could serve a desperate housing problem, short-term. However, is this the type of risk the landlord is thinking of taking for their new flats? Is this an attempt to circumvent the normal planning scrutiny and build lower quality cheaper general needs accommodation? How quickly will short term lets become long term lets to attract a more mainstream tenant?

In a separate but related article, the BBC reported the dramatic decline in non-EU students attending Welsh University, this particularly hard-hitting as Wales that tends to have a disproportionately higher number of students from south Asia. Its known that foreign students look to rent self-contained flats, rather than other forms of shared student housing. From my own experience as a student living in Cardiff in the 1990’s, I can imagine how unattractive the traditional shared terraced student houses have become and a more modern product is required.

If we have hit ‘peak’ student accommodation in Cardiff, how will this affect the regeneration of the cities changing sky line? There is no doubt that the appetite for developing new student flats is helping to fuel the current wave of city development and regeneration across Cardiff’s city centre. Cardiff needs its vibrant and successful university sector and attracting the best students has to be underpinned by modern and vibrant city environment including good quality student accommodation. The city also needs more homes, striking the right balance in the type, quantity, and quality is the challenge.

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