assessment of student housing demand and supply for cambridge



Cambridge City Council and Oxford City Council recently commissioned the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, part of the University of Cambridge, to investigate issues relating to the provision of student accommodation in both cities. Although the assessment of institutions was undertaken using the same methodology, two separate reports have been produced for the Councils. The report for Oxford City Council has yet to be published but is expected by the end of February 2017.

The assessment work was identified as necessary by Cambridge City Council for the following reasons:

  1. Since the emerging Local Plan was submitted for examination in March 2014, a new element of the National Planning Practice Guidance was introduced in 2015 in respect of student accommodation;
  2. The Council has dealt with a significant appeal for student accommodation on an existing housing allocation (App/Q0505/W/15/303586) at 315 – 349 Mill Road; and
  3. An increasing number of applications have come forward for student accommodation, with a particular emphasis on the provision of studio units as part of sui generis student accommodation.

The data collection in Cambridge was undertaken between September and December 2016.

The student accommodation study includes a baseline analysis of the current structure of the student population, the current accommodation used by students, and the future plans of the different educational institutions. It analyses what the level of purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) could be if all current and potential future students were to be accommodated in PBSA, rather than, for example, in shared housing in the private rented market.

The student accommodation study was reported to the Development Plan Scrutiny Sub-Committee on 25th January 2017 and the Committee resolved to endorse the recommendations.


Key Findings

Student Numbers

The student accommodation study shows that the number of students at educational institutions in Cambridge with a need for some form of accommodation is estimated at 46,132 in 2015/16. Within the 46,132 students total, the student numbers per institution in 2015/16 are set out in Table 1 below. 

Table 1

Within the 46,132 students total, the student numbers per type of accommodation in 2015/16 are set out in Table 2 below. 

Table 2

  • The study estimates the amount of PBSA that could be needed to accommodate all of the students who are not currently housed by their educational institution or living in existing family housing. This resulted in a figure of 6,085 bed spaces, which if provided in PBSA could allow the return of all shared houses currently occupied by students to the open market;
  • The research then analysed the impact of the growth plans of the universities. Anglia Ruskin University is planning to remain at the same student numbers in Cambridge over the next five to ten years. The University of Cambridge currently envisage an expansion in undergraduate numbers of 0.5% per year for the next ten years, and in postgraduate numbers of 2% per year. This leads to an estimated future potential 2,874 additional student bed spaces to 2026;
  • The other institutions have an anticipated growth rate of 230 students in total to 2026;
  • This suggests that a total of 9,189 student rooms could be built in PBSA by 2026 to address both the current and the potential future levels of student numbers. Taking account of student bed spaces in the pipeline, this reduces the future potential level of students outside PBSA to 7,908 bed spaces (see Table 3 below).

Table 3

The student accommodation study confirms that any development of PBSA is not guaranteed to release into the open market accommodation currently occupied by students, because there is no guarantee that the properties would not be purchased by private landlords and continue to operate as HMO for students. Assumptions have also been made about the average number of students in a shared property. According to Cambridgeshire County Council’s research team, one dwelling provides accommodation for 3.5 students, on average. However, the data collected from the University of Cambridge’s Colleges showed that shared houses that are rented for use by students in the open market house an average of 5 students per property. The data analysis therefore estimates the number of shared houses based on the average of both 3.5 and 5 students per property and provides a range. Furthermore, the student accommodation study revealed that different authorities are taking different approaches towards discounting the number of units freed up.

In light of the above, the study established that there is no consistent approach made to dealing with the counting of student accommodation towards the housing requirement. In light of this, the Council does not propose to count student accommodation as a component of housing supply for the time-being. 


The Council’s Approach – the emerging Local Plan and the next Local Plan

The emerging Local Plan

  • The Council’s view is that in the absence of a national policy requirement to provide PBSA, the ongoing uncertainty about needs beyond the next ten years, and the provision of student accommodation which continues to be made through both allocations and windfall sites, there is no justification to conclude that the Council’s current approach in the emerging Local Plan is not reasonable;
  • The Council is not therefore suggesting a major change of direction in the strategy for student accommodation in the emerging Local Plan and considers that student accommodation can continue to be provided in a variety of ways, through allocations for student accommodation and through the delivery of windfall sites;
  • Cambridge City Council therefore consider that the emerging Local Plan is capable of delivering accommodation that would address the identified future growth aspirations of the institutions and provide additional flexibility;
  • Taking into account student accommodation pipeline figures of 1,281 student units under construction or with planning permission, allocations in the emerging Local Plan (as modified) providing 740 student units and the remaining allocation at North West Cambridge for 1,675 student units, these sources of supply would address and go beyond the growth figure of 3,104 identified in Table 3 above. The Council consider that the additional 592 units provide an appropriate and prudent degree of flexibility in terms of delivery. Any provision over and above these sources of supply would need to be considered on its merits against the criteria in Policy 46 and having regard to the absence of any policy requirement at either national or local level for all students to be provided with purpose built student accommodation.

Proposed Modifications to the emerging Local Plan

  • A number of modifications are suggested to the emerging Local Plan to reinforce the Council’s approach and ensure that needs for market and affordable housing and student accommodation can be addressed as follows:

-      Policy 3: Spatial strategy for the location of residential development: policy to be strengthened alongside Policy 46 to ensure existing housing and housing allocations are not lost to student accommodation;

-      Policy 46: Development of student housing: policy to be strengthened to ensure that housing allocations are maintained alongside modifications to Policy 3. It will also be amended to confirm that schemes are tied to particular institutions, which have specific need for accommodation. 

The type of accommodation will need to be suitable for the institution in terms of type and layout, affordability and maintenance regime.

-      Conversion of two existing residential allocations (Sites R17: Mount Pleasant House and U1: Old Press/Mill Lane) to allocations for student accommodation: proposed as a result of discussions with the landowners.

The next Local Plan

The student accommodation study also includes recommendations for the next Local Plan, which is proposed to be a Local Plan covering the Greater Cambridge area. This includes the following:

  • A review of the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) and the Council’s Housing Strategy and the potential to release market housing stock by further provision of student accommodation;
  • Defining the areas in which new PBSA will be acceptable, rather than allowing speculative developments to become ‘pepper potted’ across the city. This would enable greater control over issues such as car parking;
  • Consideration to the scope for the introduction of an Article 4 direction to restrict the change of use from dwellinghouse (C3) to small House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) (C4).

Addressing Current Issues

Prior to the emerging Local Plan being adopted and the development of new evidence base documents to support the next Local Plan, the Council will continue to receive applications for student accommodation development.

As an interim measure, in order to address the local concerns raised with regard to both parking and enforcement of occupancy restrictions, the Council will investigate opportunities within the current development management processes to address both parking issues and compliance with occupancy restrictions in the case of existing student accommodation developments.


Bidwells Commentary

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) advises, at paragraph 50, that local planning authorities should plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community. Furthermore, the NPPG permits Local Planning Authorities to count student accommodation towards the housing requirement for a district, based upon the amount of accommodation it releases from the housing market (Paragraph 3-038-20140306).

Notwithstanding the Council’s current approach, it is clear that student housing should be considered as part of the wider housing market in the city, through future revisions of the SHMA. Therefore, providers of PBSA should now be actively looking to identify areas within the city that could accommodate more intensive student accommodation in the longer term.

Not surprisingly, the recommendations steer clear of potentially undermining the emerging Local Plan and have recommended that this is addressed in the next Local Plan. This suggests that the next Local Plan Review must be imminent.

The student accommodation study can be downloaded here.

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