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Planning matters

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Bedspace: a framework used to assess the need for Purpose Built Student Accommodation
Most university locations across the UK have seen an influx of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). In response many Local Planning Authorities now require developers to demonstrate the need for this development. How can Bedspace help? Bedspace strengthens the justification for PBSA by:  Presenting evidence led quantitative analysis of current and past trends in student growth and student accommodation preferences; Analysing the supply pipeline as well as the potential future capacity for further PBSA, cognisant of both past trends and of university growth ambitions; Detailing the potential economic impacts generated during construction of the development and after its completion; and Presenting this assessment in a planning application document which has proven track record with Local Authorities. Who is it for? PBSA Developers: Demonstrating the need for PBSA in a given University location or informing early investment decisions; Local Planning Authorities: Understanding student accommodation needs in their area and providing robust evidence for emerging development plans; and Higher Education Institutions: Understanding the mix of student accommodation in their area and informing expansion of their accommodation offer. Bedspace features two examples of student base data in local authorities, one of which is Oxford City Council (OCC). The need to deliver general housing, whilst ensuring student accommodation is provided for during the plan period, is acutely relevant to OCC, and thus presented an interesting case study. It has been identified that in the catchment area of Oxford City there are 32,295 students, split between its two universities; Oxford University (19,265) and Oxford Brookes University (13,035)[1]. If the city’s student population was to increase in line with past growth rates over the last 10 years, there could be an additional 965 students by 2025. Unsurprisingly, our evidence also shows that in Oxford, university halls of residence are the preferred accommodation type (over 50%). With 25% of students living in private rented accommodation, private sector halls represent only a very small fraction of the share (3%). The Council’s recently adopted Local Plan (June 2020) recognises that the success of Oxford’s economy is shaped by the presence of its two universities. The Local Plan identifies that provision of good quality, well managed student accommodation will continue to be required in Oxford. However, this type of land use often competes with sites for general housing. The Local Plan therefore places restrictions on the locations suitable for student accommodation and limits its occupancy to students at one of the two universities on academic courses of over a year. OCC’s approach has been to include a threshold cap for both universities within the Local Plan. This restricts the number of students permitted to live outside the university provided accommodation. Furthermore, in the OCC area, the growth, redevelopment or refurbishment of education floorspace is linked to student accommodation provision (i.e. the provision of accommodation must be in step with the expansion of student places). The above, coupled with the requirement to provide an affordable housing contribution on student accommodation schemes (25 or more students/10 or more self-contained units), as well as payment of CIL (which is applicable to both education and student accommodation floorspace in the OCC area), presents a challenging situation for PBSA. However, the unique nature of OCC’s threshold strategy for the universities is long established. The Local Plan Inspector noted in its Examination Report (May 2020[2]) that “…..the threshold system has been tried and tested in Oxford in previous plans and is a workable means of balancing the housing needs of the very large student population against the city’s many other housing needs and land uses. It is also a system that, subject to the specific threshold numbers, has been developed by consensus.” Given the importance of the universities within the area, supply for student accommodation needs to be met to ensure growth of these important institutions can continue. The Local Plan’s aim is to balance support for the two universities while continuing the prioritisation of general housing. This difficult balancing act is applicable to local authorities across the UK. Clearly PBSA is one of many competing land uses that Local Authorities have to contend with when seeking to meet its housing requirements. The shortage of appropriate sites within the city is a factor in land supply for housing. For example, Oxford has a rich history with large swathes of the city core within or adjacent to Conservation Areas, many listed buildings and other heritage assets. This is common across several of the UK’s university towns and cities. By nature, student accommodation would ideally be located in areas accessible to the city centre as opposed to outer suburbs, which may be more suitable for general housing provision. If students living within private rented accommodation could be housed in PBSA, private housing could be released back into the general rental market. The National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG[3]) confirms that all student accommodation can in principle count towards contributing to an authority’s housing land supply based on: the amount of accommodation that new student housing releases in the wider housing market (by allowing existing properties to return to general residential use); and / or the extent to which it allows general market housing to remain in such use, rather than being converted for use as student accommodation. PBSA development could go some way to assist with these challenges, allowing institutions to focus investment in teaching facilities and the “student experience” rather than provision of accommodation. New PBSA development presents a fresh opportunity in terms of the way it can be used, which will be increasingly important in an uncertain market (See Arwel Evans' blog). This flexibility could help with other competing land uses, not just for general housing sites. For example, PBSA space can be rented on a short-term basis to visitors outside of term time, helping to address a shortage of visitor accommodation. Bedspace can help navigate some of the current uncertainty in the market and provide a robust evidence led argument, helping to guide investment decisions to where PBSA is most needed. Please do not hesitate to get in touch to discuss further. [1] HESA Student Record 2018/19 (figures do not sum due to rounding)[2][3] Paragraph: 034 Reference ID: 68-034-20190722


The challenges in planning for education need
The Scape Group report[1] (discussed in Zahra Waters' Blog back in November 2016) “The School Places Challenge” opens by stating that the “school age population, who rely on state schools will grow by almost 10% by 2020, increasing by 729,000, and the country’s schools will have to accommodate an increase that equates to the entire population of Leeds”. That is a pretty daunting task to plan for. One way the last administration set about tackling this challenge was by setting up ‘LocatEd’. LocatEd is responsible for buying and developing sites to help meet the Government’s commitment to new build schools. Lichfields recently attended an event at New London Architecture (“Meeting London’s School Needs”) where LocatED identified that the Government had committed £7 billion for school places, along with 500 new free schools by 2020, with the then Government expecting to deliver 600,000 new school places by 2021. The new company has a £2billion budget to acquire land across the country, making it one of the largest purchasers of land in the UK. This was a clear Government pledge to meet the required need. However, even if LocatED were to achieve these targets, there would still be a shortfall in school places. The situation post-election is now potentially even more challenging, as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently reported that schools are facing the most significant financial pressure since the mid 1990s, having to find £3billion savings by 2020[2]. Before the election, the Department of Education (DofE) suggested one way of doing this would be by using staff more efficiently, which could result in savings of around £1.7 billion. Given previous staff efficiency targets set for the NHS however, there is a risk that these targets are over-ambitious and essentially could be counterproductive (as stated in the PAC report, “Financial Sustainability of Schools[3]”). Also, whilst DofE state education funding was at its highest at more than £40bn in 2016-2017, in reality part of this funding is as a result of rising pupil numbers (set to rise from 7.2 million in 2015–16 to 7.7 million in 2019–20). And if this added financial pressure were not enough, the need to build more homes puts further demand on existing schools, making the requirement for more even more pertinent. In one recent case, the governors of a primary school in Portishead urged the Town Council to object to any future residential planning applications for development within its area, on the basis that there were not enough school places to accommodate what it considered to be another influx of students[4]. Undoubtedly a more positive approach is needed to actively assist local authorities with planning for new schools.  The planning process can be difficult when it comes to new schools, with transport impact assessments, the consideration of site suitability and effective public consultation all necessary to de-risk the process, and all needing to be balanced along with a host of other planning considerations.   At Lichfields we are very experienced in dealing with the hurdles that are present in seeking to secure planning permissions for a range of education facilities. It’s clear that the last administration was putting resources into LocatEd and it will be interesting to see after the election if/ how it progresses in actively finding and buying sites. The current state of flux brought on by the general election has further muddied the waters, with various contradicting policies on education being a key component for the main parties’ manifestos (read Enya MacLiam Roberts’ Blog for more details). For details of the extensive work we have been involved in, please visit our education sector page. Sources [1] [2] [3] [4]