Greens call for a halt to further luxury student flat developments

Planning permission recentyl gvien to Radmore & Tucker's site to become student blocksExeter Greens have called for a halt to the continued growth of purpose-built luxury student accommodation, saying the speed and scale of the developments poses risks to the mix and diversity of the city centre; the provision of affordable accommodation and to student mental health.

 The Party’s call for a curtailment of such new developments follows the latest plans for nearly 600 beds on the bus depot site and a planned 130+ bed block on historic Bartholomew Street. In the central area of the city alone, major developments totalling 2,640 beds[1] are complete, under construction or planned.  Exeter Greens believe the City Council should take urgent action to put in place a coherent planning strategy for student accommodation to prevent the city centre becoming dominated by ‘luxury’ blocks.

 Diana Moore, lead Green Party candidate for Exeter St David’s ward, said:

 “We value the presence of the University in Exeter and its staff and students.  But we recognise that in Exeter – as in other university towns – there can be tensions between the university and long-term residents. Managing this requires give and take on both sides and a sensible and balanced planning strategy; something totally absent at present. The University’s reliance on new developer-funded blocks of bedsits in the city centre to accommodate its student growth is upsetting community balance.”

Exeter Greens have identified some worrying issues with the new student block developments.

Firstly, they cite anecdotal evidence from health professionals that the single-bed units in large blocks contribute to students feeling isolated, leading in turn to mental health issues.

Secondly, the city’s central area with its mix of historic atmosphere, modern design and balanced mix of shops, leisure and residential, is put at risk. One current proposal – the St James Park redevelopment – is not consistent with the statutory Exeter St James Neighbourhood Plan, say the Greens.

Thirdly, the latest new accommodation in St David’s ward is described as ‘luxury’ or ‘high quality’, with correspondingly high rents. Greens say this drive for more ‘luxury’ blocks is not conducive to attracting students to Exeter University on the basis of merit rather than ability to pay high living costs. 

Greens are calling on the currently Labour-run City Council to develop a clear planning policy to respond effectively to the flood of planning applications for such purpose-built student blocks. The current policy does not allow the Council to refuse an application simply because the building is for student housing [2]. 

Diana Moore continued:

“The Labour Council’s planning policy is lead by developer profit. This has promoted a free-for-all of student block housing, and failed to put in place policies to manage it.  Given the problems that we have identified, we want the new Council elected on May 5th to urgently review current planning policy for student accommodation in the city.

The first step should be to publish the currently secret report on options for student housing [3], so that we can have an informed public debate.  We welcome the refusal of permission for the Renslade House plan in St David’s, now the Council must have the courage to refuse further planning permission for these blocks until policy is brought up to date.”

NOTES

[1] Exeter Green Party survey based on planning applications/consents and website information.  Smaller blocks of less than 90 beds and properties outside of the central area are excluded.

[2]  Current policy is found in Core Strategy, Policy CP5; publication version of the Development Delivery Development Plan Document, Policy DD12; University Supplementary Planning Guidance.

[3] The City Council commissioned a study from Professor Darren Smith of Loughborough University on options for accommodating future student growth in Exeter.  Cllr Rachel Sutton reported to Scrutiny Committee Economy on 21 January 2016 that “The report offered a comment on the ratio of houses compared with purpose built accommodation through to 2021”.  No other information has been made public.

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