We have written before about the incessant growth of student housing blocks in the city. We would like to see this growth brought under control. Below is a letter that we have recently sent to Cllr Welsh, the Cabinet Member with responsibility for housing.
Dear Councillor Welsh,
Shortly before Christmas, you kindly took part in an online meeting with members of the Coventry Society. One of the issues that was discussed at the meeting was the provision of specialist student accommodation in the City Centre.
There was broad agreement that initially, the provision of specialist student accommodation was positive, in that it potentially freed up a significant quantity of housing, particularly around the city centre, which had previously been rented to students, but which could now be available to the general housing market, increasing housing supply.
However, the trend towards the development of student housing has continued and still continues. We are concerned that, the sheer quantity of student accommodation already built and in the pipeline in the city centre is now disproportionate to the city’s need and we are concerned that the city centre will be blighted for years to come by underused blocks of student accommodation. We understand that not all of the recently built blocks are fully occupied or that the market exists for yet more units, however, the development pressure continues.
Whilst there are figures available for student numbers at the two universities there does not appear to be any recent data on the supply of student accommodation in the city. The latest data appears to be that which was included in the Coventry Local Plan. This information dates from 2014. No more up to date information appears to exist. In the absence of recent data, decisions are having to be taken without the information needed to make good, informed decisions. We understand that information on student accommodation will need to be gathered as part of a comprehensive housing needs assessment as the Council prepares for the review of the Coventry Local Plan, but this is still some considerable time away. We would request that an initial assessment of the current and planned level of student accommodation is undertaken in order to better understand the current situation and given the evidence of void student accommodation, that the city council should not grant any further planning permissions for student housing until such time as an assessment of need has been undertaken.
There seems to be a view in some quarters that as student housing counts against the city’s housing overall housing targets imposed by government, it must be a good thing because it means that we don’t have to build houses elsewhere to meet those targets. Whilst this may be the case, this argument completely ignores the impact that these units are having on the city centre now and for decades to come.
Not only are we are concerned about the potential blighting effect of student housing on the physical environment of the city centre, but we have concerns over the socio -economic make up of the city centre. As city centres change and evolve to adapt to the post Covid world, where retailing through shops on the high street is a far less dominant city centre role, it is important that a new role for centres is clearly identified. It is important that centres become places where people live, work and enjoy themselves. For this to happen, it is important that there is a mix of residential types in the city centre. We are concerned that there is now an imbalance, with a significant student population far exceeding the number of people living in private accommodation or in social housing. We have expressed serious concern about the lack of social housing in the city centre, compounded by proposals contained in the City Centre South scheme for 1300 new residential units, none of which are to be affordable. All of this is leading to an unbalanced population profile in the city centre.
Furthermore, whist the student population increasingly dominates the city centre, this population is transient (students don’t establish roots in the city centre, they are here for a couple of years and move on) and student accommodation is only occupied for some 7 or 8 months of the year, with students having 3 months off over the summer and a month off at Christmas and Easter. At those times parts of the city centre will be sparsely populated. None of this squares with our and the City Council’s objective of a dynamic and vibrant city centre.
We would also argue that if planning permission is to be granted for further student accommodation, buildings should in future be constructed in such a way that if demand for specialist student housing fails to materialise, now or at some time in the future, then their conversion to general purpose residential accommodation should be possible, rather than the buildings becoming expensive “White Elephants” that blight the city for years to come.
These comments are meant in a constructive way. We are not critical of the way that this issue has been handled by the City Council to date and we fully appreciate the pressure that the council has been under to provide student housing and to meet housing targets. However, we do feel that the time has come for a review of the situation and the City Council policies that have led to the position in which we now find ourselves. Until such a review is concluded we believe it would be right for a moratorium on further permissions for student housing. We hope you find these comments useful in stimulating a considered debate of the issue.
Sent on behalf of the Coventry Society – a reply is awaited.