Recently, the subject of student accommodation blocks has got people talking.
In an article for the Journal, Conservative councillor Steve Williams wrote that significant portions of the existing Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sit empty, yet plans are being waved through to allow the construction of even more, including the sites of the old Rhodaus Town school and the Jaguar showroom next to the Westgate Towers.
Cllr Williams argues that PBSA doesn’t achieve one of its most important aims – freeing up former student houses for families. Students enjoy living in shared houses. The overpriced and cramped quarters in student blocks are less sociable and less desirable.
Currently the shortage of three-bedroom houses means families are often forced to look further afield as city-centre properties are hard to come by and expensive.
The sites in Canterbury set to be developed into PBSA are prime locations for family housing, lying within walking distance of schools and shops.
Councils are required by government to produce a Local Plan, which regulates development and ensures the right mix of housing is constructed to meet the needs of the area.
While the council has no power to tell developers what to build, the Local Plan gives it power to refuse planning permission for developments that don’t meet the housing needs of the area.
Compounding the problem is the lack of local social housing. While social housing is included in the plans for the Mountfield development in south Canterbury, the project remains snarled in legal and planning issues, so may be years away from delivery – if it ever makes it.
And while three-bedroom houses can be switched from social to private housing with relative ease, the same cannot be said for student blocks. If demand fails to reach expectations, Canterbury may be saddled with useless accommodation sitting empty as families languish on social housing lists.
The council should freeze plans for new PBSA until the demand can be firmly established, and instead focus on encouraging development of family housing in some of Canterbury’s best locations.