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Don’t underestimate the students! Impact of COVID-19 on university towns
I recently wrote about the impact of COVID-19 on student accommodation given that the traditional university experience is likely to be out of the picture for the short term. I now want to look at some of the other social and economic implications of students not attending university or deciding to study remotely in September 2020. Impact on student recruitment There is a real possibility that students will not wish to attend university in 2020/21 due to the fear on missing out on the traditional university experience, that the alternative provision will not provide the same quality of learning, concern about living away from home or because of public health concerns. On a more encouraging note, the Guardian[1] recently commented that a record 40.5% of all 18-year olds in the UK have applied to go to university in September, the first time that more than four out of ten students had applied by 30 June. It will be interesting to understand the actual registration figures when September comes and how many will be attending in person or studying remotely. The current picture is uncertain. If 1st year students are not registering for courses and returning students are not attending in person then this has the potential to have huge consequences on towns and cities that depend on students to ensure the vitality and viability of its communities. If learning is going to be online then the need for accommodation as well as other supporting facilities such as shops, pubs and cafes is temporarily reduced. Aberystwyth, where I completed my undergraduate studies for example is a town that has the university at its heart. For a town with a resident population[2] of 18,749, the 2011 census states that students accounted for 8,169 of the population. It is also important to note that over 2,000 staff work at the institution[3], demonstrating the importance of the institution to the social and economic makeup of the town and the surrounding area. There are other towns that are also reliant on the student population. For example, Durham University had 19,025 students[4] in 2018/19 compared to the resident population of around 43,000[5]. It also employs over 4,000 people[6], illustrating its importance to the local area. A reduction in the number of students learning, living and spending time within these towns could have far reaching consequences on a range of issues such as: Impact on services and facilities that rely on the student population such as shops, cafes, pubs and nightclubs; Vacancies in student accommodation on campus and in the town centre; Loss of jobs at the university and at student focussed businesses; Decrease in the vibrancy of the town centre due to lack of a critical mass; Less revenue for University provided community facilities such as theatres and art centres; Impact on supply chains that normally supply the university. Impact on hospitality sector as parents no longer need to visit their children. Towns like Aberystwyth and likewise York and Bath are likely to be hit even harder as they also rely on tourists to support their functional economy. Tourism is another sector that has been critically impacted by COVID-19 although there are some early signs of a bounceback with people planning on enjoying a staycation during the rest of 2020 instead of venturing abroad. Economic impact The economic contribution of students to an university town or city should not be downplayed. The 2014/15 Student Income and Expenditure Survey[7] (SIES) states that the average (mean) total expenditure including tuition fee costs of full-time English-domiciled students in 2014/15 was £19,922. Adjusted for inflation[8] this equates to £22,472.41 in 2019 terms. Within the total expenditure figure, the SIES states that living costs[9] for full time students domiciled in England averaged £6,956 per annum in 2014/15. Adjusted for inflation this equates to £7,846.51 in 2019 terms. Not all of this spend will be spent locally of course (i.e. utility bills, bank charges and mobile phone charges will be collected centrally). However, a large amount of expenditure will be enjoyed by local businesses (or national businesses with a local presence) including supermarkets, shops, cafes, restaurants and takeaways, pubs and fitness facilities which in turn support local jobs and supply chains. The SIES states that housing costs[10] for full time students amounted to an average of £3,610 per annum in 2014/15. Adjusted for inflation this equates to £4,072.15 in 2019 terms. This expenditure will be realised locally, either directly to the university or to private landlords and often re-invested to further improve the housing stock, creating job opportunities in the process. Taking the above into account it is clear that the economic benefit of students to the university and the university settlement is substantial. Consequential impacts on facilities and services in the towns and cities due to the reduced number of students could therefore give rise to social impacts such as the closing of businesses and the loss of jobs. Research by London Economics[11] estimates that the likelihood of deferral amongst UK-domiciled students for 2020/21 was approximately 13.3% if the University was operating as usual (few if any social distancing restrictions or limits to university activities) and 28% if the University was not operating as usual (many classes delivered online and many social distancing restrictions in place). Therefore, the likelihood of deferral amongst UK-domiciled students was approximately 7% higher as a result of the pandemic. Based on the number of first year full time enrolments in 2018/19 as a proxy we see the following theoretical economic impact, based on a 14.7% deferral rate: The above does not include an allowance for UK-domiciled part time students or non-UK-domiciled students that may also decide to defer or those that would defer regardless of the pandemic. According to HESA there were 249,080 non-UK-domiciled enrolments studying in UK universities in 2018/19. Given the restrictions and loss of appetite for international travel it is likely that there will be a reduction in international students enrolling in 2020 which will further add to the economic impact on the institutions and the towns/cities that they are based.Source: HESA; Department for Education; London Economics. Note that a different SIES report covers students in Wales and has been used to estimate the Aberystwyth impact. Key takeaway The social and economic value of students to the UK’s towns and cities is enormous and is particularly important for smaller towns that are built around the institution. The social and economic impact of a reduction in students is therefore likely to be painful in the short term, especially if these settlements also rely on tourism, another sector that has been impacted by the pandemic. To assist in ensuring that these university towns and cities are able to survive in the short term it is important to attract as many students as possible and to limit the numbers of deferrals. To do this it will be important to demonstrate that the establishment’s facilities are able to operate as safely as possible given the current circumstances. To this end, Lichfields can provide town planning advice to assist universities on how to rationalise and/or expand its estate to ensure that the university’s offer can be as attractive and as normal as possible during the pandemic. This may mean advising and obtaining planning permission for buildings for alternative purposes, additional temporary or permanent structures, extended opening hours and potentially the need to amend extant planning permissions. Lichfields has been advising Kingston University on realising its Estate Vision since 2005. Similarly, Local Planning Authorities should be suitably flexible in the short term until student numbers return. This could include fast-tracking the above adaptation planning applications but also allowing town centre units (including accommodation) to be used for different purposes to avoid short term vacancies and designating areas for outdoor socialising so that social events can take place. Lichfields is currently advising a number of Local Authorities on COVID Recovery Strategies. In areas where there is strong tourism demand local authorities should be encouraging temporary changes of use in Student Accommodation to visitor apart-hotel style accommodation. Contact Lichfields to discuss any planning queries that you may have.   [1] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jul/09/uk-universities-record-number-applications-lockdown[2] 2011 Census (data acquired from Nomis on the built-up area of Aberystwyth)[3] https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/staff-induction/community/[4] https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/where-study[5] https://www.dur.ac.uk/study/location/durham/[6] https://www.dur.ac.uk/about/facts/[7] Department for Education (March 2018)[8] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator[9] food and drink, personal items such as clothes and mobile phones, entertainment, household goods and non-course travel such as holidays.[10] Including rent, mortgage costs, retainers, council tax and household bills[11] Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on university deferral rates and student switching – May 2020

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TAN1: Gone but not forgotten

TAN1: Gone but not forgotten

Arwel Evans 09 Jul 2020
On 26th March 2020, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, announced that Technical Advice Note 1 (TAN1: Joint Housing Land Availability Studies) had been revoked and that the Five-Year Housing Land Supply section of Planning Policy Wales had been replaced by an interim policy statement. She also announced that Edition 3 of the Development Plan Manual had been published. To summarise, the Five-Year Land Supply policy in Wales has been removed and replaced by a new method of monitoring housing delivery based on trajectories set out in Local Development Plans (LDPs). The requirement for decision makers to afford ‘substantial weight’ to the lack of housing delivery has been removed. This signifies a clear message from Welsh Government that a Plan-led approach to the delivery of homes is paramount with ‘speculative’ applications for residential development on unallocated sites outside of the settlement boundary not being looked at favourably. At face value, the new approach will make it harder for such sites to be promoted. Recent Planning Appeal Decisions There have, however, been some interesting appeal decisions that illustrate the Planning Inspectorate’s approach to matters of housing delivery following the change in policy. In summary, these decisions show that housing delivery remains an important consideration in determining planning appeals (and applications), especially in situations where the Local Plan or the Replacement Local Plan remains some distance from adoption. Figure 1 demonstrates the current progress of Local Development Plans in Wales. Figure one: LDP Current Progress (June 2020) Source: Lichfields Land south of Rhos Road, Penyffordd, Flintshire (APP/A6835/A/3243303) 36 dwellings for people over the age of 55 The unallocated appeal site lies outside the settlement boundary. In allowing the appeal on 27 April 2020 the head of the Planning Inspectorate in Wales, Tony Thickett, stated (paragraph 8): “The changes to PPW and revocation of TAN1 have not reduced the importance of delivering new housing, just the way delivery is planned, measured and monitored. PPW, as revised, states that: ‘Under-delivery against the trajectory may require a specific early review of the development plan’. In my view that is a clear indication that the government is committed to ensuring that the planning system delivers the housing Wales needs and that under delivery is a material consideration.” (Lichfields emphasis). Mr Thickett helpfully clarified that, despite the recent policy changes, the under-delivery of housing remains a material consideration. He then sets out matters to be considered in determining the weight to be attributed to under delivery, as follows: The extent of the shortfall; The length of time there has been a shortfall; and, How soon the Council will be able to demonstrate through an adopted LDP, how the housing needs of the area are to be met. He concluded that, in this case, the shortfall was significant both in terms of quantum and the amount of time that the housing land supply had been inadequate. The fact that the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) is time expired and that Flintshire’s first LDP[1] is still some 12-18 months away from adoption means that a Plan-led solution to the housing shortfall will not be forthcoming in the near future. Against this context, the Inspector accepted that the site is needed to provide a short-term solution to the housing supply issues. Land North of Highfields, Coedely, Tonyrefail (APP/L6940/A/20/3246396)76 dwellings Similar to the Penyffordd appeal, this site also lies outside the settlement boundary and is set in the context of an LDP that is nearly time expired with very limited progress made on a LDP review[2]. In allowing the appeal on 12 June 2020, Inspector Joanne Burston explained at paragraph 44 that: “….the current 5YHLS situation is serious in that there is a significant shortfall. Consequently, while the proposal would be contrary to the development plan taken as a whole, material considerations indicate that the determination should be otherwise than in accordance with that plan.” Again, the Inspector notes the recent changes to national policy and guidance and states at paragraph 33 that: “Given the revocation of TAN 1 the decision maker has the discretion, based on the evidence and facts of the appeal, to determine the weight to be applied to housing need. In the case before me the Council accepts that they can only demonstrate a housing land supply (HLS) of 1.3 years. In this respect I also note the appellant’s evidence that there has been a persistent under delivery in the supply of housing for some 13 years and that this is likely to continue given the projected timescale for the adoption of the LDP Review.”  (Lichfields emphasis). Interestingly, the Inspector actually made use of the five-year supply method to quantify the shortfall. This is likely to be a reflection of the fact that appeal was made prior to the revocation of the five-year land requirement policy and evidence was presented in respect of this matter. The Inspector used this evidence to highlight the severity of the housing land supply problem in Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough and the need for intervention. We would not, however, expect to see detailed discussions about the five-year housing land supply position in planning appeal decisions going forward. In explaining the need for the site, the Inspector went on to highlight revised paragraph 4.2.12 of PPW which states: “…that planning authorities should also identify when interventions may be required to deliver the housing supply, including for specific sites.” The Inspector clearly felt that allowing this appeal represented a suitable intervention that would assist in the delivery of housing supply in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Land west of Bryn Isa, Vicarage Lane, Gresford, Wrexham (APP/H6955/A/19/3240973)44 dwellings This appeal was dismissed on 24 April 2020 mainly on green wedge impacts but nevertheless contains a useful commentary here about the consideration of housing land supply, particularly in relation to the weight to be given to an emerging LDP in remedying the lack of housing delivery. The Inspector (Joanne Burston again) explained that the decision maker has discretion, based on the evidence and facts of the appeal, to determine the weight to be applied to housing need. In this case the Council again agreed that there was a shortfall of housing land supply but argued that it was taking steps to address this through the emerging LDP. However, in respect of this point, the Inspector stated (paragraphs 36 and 37): “Whilst the eLDP is at an advanced stage, I am mindful that the Plan’s examination is still ongoing, and the Inspectors are yet to submit their report. In such circumstances I consider that only limited weight can be given to the eLDP.   Nonetheless, it is not for me to make a judgement on the outcome of the ongoing LDP examination. Therefore, as it stands there is a need for housing, a matter which weighs significantly in favour of the appeal.” (Lichfields emphasis). This decision is helpful in noting that until the LDP is found sound then it cannot be concluded that the Council is taking reasonable and timely action to remedy the lack of housing delivery. In the context of the current state of play in respect of LDP preparation and review across Wales, this conclusion will cause some concern for many authorities. Conclusion and takeaway These appeal decisions (all issued after 26 March 2020) are both timely and helpful in demonstrating that housing delivery is still an important consideration. We have not identified any planning appeal decisions in which the revocation of the requirement to demonstrate a five-year housing supply has directly resulted in the housing need case being rejected by an Inspector. Whilst the weight to be given to the under-delivery of housing is now a matter for the decision maker and will depend on the circumstances of each case, Inspector Thickett sets out some useful and logical parameters for considering the weight to be attributed to under-delivery. The appeal decisions should act as a warning to local planning authorities about the need to maintain an up-to-date adopted LDP and to ensure that housing delivery meets the trajectory. If housing delivery is insufficient and the LDP is out-of-date, then this (still) presents opportunities for developers to bring sites forward. Indeed, subject to site-specific considerations, local planning authorities should welcome such proposals at planning application stage as an appropriate short-term intervention. Opportunities should be sought to work positively with those authorities that have housing delivery issues, especially where sites are sustainably located, free from constraints and can demonstrate adherence with Planning Policy Wales’ placemaking principles. Contact Lichfields to discuss strategies for obtaining planning permission for housing sites in Wales.   [1] The statutory development plan in Flintshire is the Unitary Development Plan (adopted in 2011). The authority hopes to adopt its first Local Development Plan in the summer of 2021.[2] The statutory development plan in Rhondda Cynon Taf is the Local Development Plan (adopted in 2011). The end date of the LDP is 2021 and it is unlikely that a Replacement Local Development Plan will be in place until 2024 at the earliest.  

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