Student flats are to be built on the Barretts site

Dreary, mundane, unimaginative…

A few years back owners of large pieces of real estate in Canterbury had what might be reasonably called a eureka moment.

They stumbled upon the idea of putting up privately owned blocks of student flats. The universities were growing, we were told, and so all the students coming here would be beating down the doors to get into purpose built student accommodation (PBSA).

Except, a few years on that is increasingly not looking the case.

We now know that PBSA is far from full. We have learned that it is expensive, far more pricey than a year in a shared house in Wincheap or down the Sturry Road.

And we know there are rumblings that 50 grands’ worth of debt for a degree in poetry or gender studies is telling some teenagers – and, more importantly, their parents – that going to university might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

A total of 120 student flats are set to be approved for the Barrett’s site

Despite all this, the Canterbury Journal revealed that yet more student flats are likely to be waved through by city council planners – this time for the Barretts site on the corner of Pound Lane and St Peter’s Street.

The truth about this debate, however, isn’t whether we need more student flats or whether these, which would doubtless be in a desirable location, would be fully occupied.

It’s a question of the use of this piece of land.

If Canterbury City Council approves the application for 120 student flats, it would be an appalling abnegation of the public good.

And yet, according to planning law, it may have no choice – especially if it wants to avoid having to spend months locked in judicial combat when an appeal is launched against a decision to reject it.

But it’s impossible not to dream of the all the wonderful possibilities for the Barretts site. How about a marketplace with little stalls and huts and places to eat?

How about something which celebrates the history of Canterbury? It is, after all, in the shadow the Westgate Towers and close to the old City Wall.

How about something the Marlowe Theatre could use for cultural activities: a stage for outdoor performances, perhaps?

Nope. The likelihood is we’ll get none of that. If the planning committee follows the advice of the council’s planning officers, we’ll get student flats – as dreary, mundane and unimaginative use for this land as one could conceive.

Canterbury deserves something so much better.

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