On 21 May 2020 the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University made a statement outlining its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the university is likely to function in the future. Professor Toope explained that the University would not be able to deliver all face-to-face lectures for the academic year 2020/21 and that these are likely to be replaced by online lectures. However, it is acknowledged that lectures are only one component of a successful university experience and that other elements such as small-group teaching, supervisions and practicals are expected to continue in person but taking account of social distancing requirements. Other UK universities have made similar statements.
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. Students may defer until 2021/22 or suspend plans on a longer-term basis. Analysis by London Economics estimates that as many as 110,000 students in Britain could delay going to university in 2020/21 if classes remain online, causing a “severe” financial hit to academic institutions. Total decline in international students alone is expected to be 120,755 across UK universities. With higher fees paid by international students this could have significant financial impacts in the short term.
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 student accommodation as well as other supporting facilities is reduced.
Impact on student accommodation sector
The reduced number of students registering and number of existing students deciding to study from home via online classes is likely to have a significant impact on the student accommodation sector in the short term. This includes student accommodation owned by the institutions, private housing stock as well as private purpose-built student accommodation.
Purpose-built student accommodation has seen a boom recently with schemes coming forward in most university towns and cities. Purpose-built student accommodation has become increasingly popular for students. The benefits are clear: often, a better standard of living, on-site facilities as well as increased security and the benefit of not having to deal directly with landlords/agents. I discussed this in a previous blog.
Purpose-built student accommodation schemes that are currently under construction for occupation by the class of 2020/21 as well as existing operational buildings may no longer be in a position to attract the number of students (especially international students) initially anticipated and planned for due to the reduced number of students attending in a post COVID-19 world. Unsurprisingly, this creates a headache for the developer as the return on investment anticipated will not be realised in the short term. Clearly this is not a sustainable position and therefore it will be necessary to review whether the asset can be used for another purpose in the interim so that some income can be achieved, otherwise there is a risk that the financial asset becomes a burden.
Many Section 106 agreements or planning conditions restrict purpose-built student accommodation to students on full academic years, some even to specific institutions. Now is the time to seek agreement from the Local Planning Authority to permit use by students from other educational institutions, such as language colleges or the like who have short-term needs for accommodation but struggle to place students, this will further add to the resilience of the stock along alongside considering temporary changes of use.
Planning permission for temporary change of use
The circumstances we find ourselves in currently are not normal and there is, in our opinion a need for pragmatism and flexibility from local planning authorities in terms of allowing purpose-built student accommodation buildings to be used for an alternative use temporarily until student numbers recover. From our experience some authorities already take a pragmatic view on temporary uses and acknowledge that it is sensible to allow buildings being completed in the middle of an academic year to be occupied by non-students until the start of the new academic year. It is already common practice for purpose-built student accommodation blocks to function as apart-hotel accommodation outside of term time catering for peak tourism demand. Lichfields has been successful in securing this flexibility on a number of schemes across the country.
The format and configuration of purpose-built student accommodation range from studio rooms with a bathroom (and sometimes kitchen) as well as communal areas to bedrooms in a cluster flat with shared communal kitchens, bathrooms and living space. This appears to point towards potential suitable alternative uses such as hotel or hostel (use class C1), short term private rented accommodation (use class C3) or a combination of these uses such as aparthotels / serviced accommodation. In addition, there could well be a scenario where part of the building continues to be used for student accommodation and part for the alternative use. This will depend on how the building functions internally and the anticipated number of students.
Residential space standards will apply (in England) and therefore a robust case will need to be put forward to argue for some deviation. A building with communal space, including outside amenity space could mitigate for smaller rooms and the fact that the permission is temporary should find support with pragmatic Local Planning Authorities.
We note that in Cardiff, Fusion Students have recently applied to continue using up to 401 rooms within its Zenith scheme as serviced apartments (Use Class C1) instead of student accommodation. They had previously been successful in securing permission to use the building in this way for a period of 12 months. Fusion note that this approach is being taken on other sites throughout England and Wales. In this instance the non-students are able to use the communal spaces and facilities together with the students. It will be important to consider how this will work in practice.
The takeaway message
The purpose-built student accommodation market is likely to be significantly affected by COVID-19 in the short term and therefore it is important to review contingency options for schemes that are impacted and to open dialogue with the local planning authority as soon as possible.
Lichfields is well placed to negotiate onerous planning restrictions on use, Section 106 clauses or planning conditions as well as making the case robustly for temporary changes of use to support the purpose-built student accommodation recovery from COVID-19.
Contact Lichfields to discuss any planning queries that you may have.
 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update from the Vice-Chancellor (University of Cambridge - May 2020) Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on university finances (London Economics – April 2020) Serviced apartments use extension sought for Cardiff scheme (Insider Media Wales - May 2020)
08 Aug 2017
Last week my youngest daughter graduated from nursery, ready to start primary school in September. I calculated that in the five years since 2012 we have spent over £76,000 on nursery care for our two children. Childcare is clearly a booming business!
Whilst the care my girls received during their time at nursery was fantastic there were two areas where I always thought it could be improved: firstly by the introduction of male staff; and secondly by the development of links with the community and in particular local care homes.
In 2000 the BBC reported that for every 100 people working in childcare, only two are men. The Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) questioned 1,000 parents about the issue of men working in nurseries. 59% of respondents said there was not a single man employed at the nursery to which they sent their child. The CWDC is calling for more men to consider working in early years settings. They say it is crucial for children under the age of five to have contact with a responsible male adult.
Whilst it appears to be difficult to persuade men of the benefits of working in the nursery care sector the benefits of regular interactions between children and older people are widely accepted. In 1976, a Japanese man named Shimada Masaharu trialled the operation of a nursery and care home on a single site in Tokyo. By 1998, sixteen such intergenerational facilities were operating in Tokyo alone. Around the same time similar facilities were developed in the USA and Canada. One particularly successful example is the Intergenerational Learning Centre which opened in Seattle in 1991 where a nursery is located within the campus of a care home. Children are taken to visit the residents on a daily basis and residents can visit the nursery, with both taking part in a programme of structured joint activities such as singalong time, craft activities and cooking.
In Singapore childcare facilities and senior centres are to be co-located in ten new projects in the next decade to provide opportunities for intergenerational bonding, as part of a £1.69 billion national plan to help Singaporeans age confidently and lead active lives. The Singapore government is also encouraging existing operators of elder care facilities to introduce innovative programming that allows the young and old to interact.
Numerous studies by the US National Institute on Aging have linked social interaction with decreased loneliness, delayed mental decline, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of disease and death in older people. Socialising across generations has also been shown to increase the amount of smiling and conversation among older adults, according to one Japanese study . This seems to be borne out by a new Channel 4 documentary ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ aired recently, which sees pre-schoolers swap their nursery for a nursing home as they join a group of pensioners at a care home for six weeks. The researchers noted an almost immediate improvement in the mood and emotional state of the elderly residents and, more surprisingly, an unexpected improvement in their mobility.
Whilst the benefits to the elderly of spending time with young children are well known, the impact this intergenerational interaction has on children has been less researched. It is suggested that children who are able to spend regular time with older people are more likely to develop a positive view of them, be less likely to view them as incompetent and leave them less likely to exhibit ageism. This can only be a positive influence on their early development.
The first nursery in the UK to share the same site as a care home and where children and residents will meet daily for activities will open in September in Clapham, London. ‘Apples and Honey Nightingale’ are to operate a 30-place nursery in the grounds of Nightingale House, a residential care home for serving the Jewish community. Nightingale House has around 200 residents at the site and the average resident is in their 90s, with 10 per cent of them aged 100 or older. The nursery has been running a weekly baby and toddler group based at the care home since January 2017 and prior to that Apples and Honey had been visiting the care home for about 15 years twice a term. The intention is for the elderly residents and the children to eat their meals together and for residents to become involved in many of the Early Years curriculum activities which are organised for the children. The operators are looking at how best to make the curriculum intergenerational, with children and residents spending time together every day, cooking and baking, doing exercise and movement classes, music and arts and crafts.
The idea of intergenerational care in the UK is being pioneered by ‘United for All Ages’, a think tank and social enterprise developing new ‘all ages’ approaches to key social and economic issues. They have been actively meeting with nursery groups, care providers and local authorities to develop the idea of co-locating nursery and elder care. Whilst some care homes invite children in from nurseries for visits this is very much a one-off and the aim of United for All Ages is to make co-location part of everyday life. Whilst this will likely be a slow process there is evidence that some operators are embracing the idea of intergenerational care. UK nursery group Busy Bees is opening a new nursery in Chichester next door to an Anchor care home, and Torbay Council in Devon has plans for an intergenerational care site. Lorraine George, a childminding development worker at Torbay has recently been awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to look at intergenerational learning and is to visit successful sites across the USA. Summing up her enthusiasm for intergenerational development Lorraine George said:
It’s such a simple idea. We have a lot of children who have very little family, or who are removed from their extended family. Most families are time poor; elderly people have plenty of time and there’s such a good exchange of skills.
In my opinion intergenerational care appears to offer significant benefits for everyone involved, including the operators of such facilities who could undoubtedly benefit from cost savings in terms of design and operation of shared facilities. Hopefully with the support of pioneers such as United for All Ages, the development of facilities such as Apples and Honey Nightingale will become more widespread across the UK, bringing benefits for generations to come. In light of the recognised shortfall in nursery provision across parts of the UK there is a potential opportunity for care home operators to diversify their standard product to provide intergenerational facilities which not only maximise profitability but offer significant benefits for all their customers, both young and old.
 Morita and Kobayashi; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013