'Hot' market shows demand is there for student living in Sheffield city centre

The proposed new building at Mayfield Court in West Street.
The proposed new building at Mayfield Court in West Street.
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The growing number of planned student flat complexes has led some to question whether Sheffield needs them all.

Just this week city councillors approved three city centre schemes with a total combined bed count of 1,096. A fourth, with 284 beds, was deferred pending a site visit, but is likely to get planning permission.

The planned tower in Winter Street.

The planned tower in Winter Street.

Several members of the planning committee questioned whether developers were aware of other schemes, and if the demand for so many large new buildings was really there.

But according to property experts and the universities themselves, the need - and benefit to the city - is clear.

At Tuesday's planning meeting, Coun Joe Otten was the first to raise the issue of possible saturation.

"We have had an awful lot of student accommodation come to us at recent meetings, and an awful lot more in front of us today," he said, having heard from Unite Students's Archie Fishlock about plans for a 600-bed complex around St Vincent's Church, off Solly Street.

Southern Grove's Steel City student flat complex off Hollis Croft and Garden Street in Sheffield.

Southern Grove's Steel City student flat complex off Hollis Croft and Garden Street in Sheffield.

"Do the developers know that there are all these other schemes, and are they in danger of building too much between them?"

Coun Jack Clarkson added: "Have we done any assessments for the number of accommodation spaces required for students, compared to the number of students in the city?

"They keep coming before us, committee after committee, and I do have concerns."

The council has not carried out a survey of student spaces itself, although developers often cite their own assessments when submitting plans.

Coun Jack Clarkson.

Coun Jack Clarkson.

The city has about 60,000 students, with an roughly half living in houses in areas such as Broomhill, Hunters Bar and Walkley, according to estimates.

However, there is a trend towards city centre living - something that developers recognise and are keen to take advantage of.

Responding to councillors concerns, Ed Fisher of Southern Grove said students contributed a 'great amount' towards the city's economy.

Mr Fisher's firm wants to build a 246-bed complex between Hollis Croft and Garden Street known as Steel City - just over the road from the St Vincent's scheme. In November councillors approved plans for a complex capable of housing more than 1,000 students on the former Footprint Tools factory, also off Hollis Croft.

How St Vincent's Church could look.

How St Vincent's Church could look.

"We looked at a number of sites across the city and felt this was particularly strong for this use," said Mr Fisher.

"We will look to do more."

Mr Fisher pointed out that the Southern Grove scheme could easily be turned into private flats - something echoed by Philip Staddon, of PJS Development Solutions, who said demand was a key driver for student schemes.

Speaking on behalf of Lexham Properties, which wants to demolish a building called Mayfield Court in West Street and put up a 284-bed building, he tried to reassure councillors.

"We have futureproofed this building because we don't want a repeat of what stands on site now, which is something of a white elephant built by a Government department, with no future.

"It will readily convert to flats without any difficulty in the future should it be required."

The planned tower in Furnival Square.

The planned tower in Furnival Square.

Councillors were convinced, and approved the three applications in front of them.

They asked to visit the site of a fourth, the Star and Garter pub in Winter Street, opposite the University of Sheffield's Arts Tower, where Locate Developments wants to put up a 16-storey tower with space for 250 students. But planning officers have recommended the plans for approval.

Several large-scale schemes came before the council towards the end of last year.

McAleer & Rushe’s proposal for a 23-storey tower on vacant land off Furnival Square, next to the Jurys Inn hotel, was approved in December.

Watkins Jones Group's plan for a 550-bed complex on land in Rockingham Street - next to its existing 28-bed Rockingham House - was granted planning permission in November.

And a mixed student and private development off Ecclesall Road, drawn up by Hallminster, was approved the same month.

The tide shows no sign of turning, with plans in for several huge developments - including the revised 526-bed Ecclesall Junction - due to be considered by councillors.

Sheffield's Coda Planning has been involved in several successful student schemes, and expects to reveal more in the coming months.

Director Adam Murray said there was no reason to think the new developments would not fill up with students, and while 15 or 20 years ago city centre living wasn't desirable, the opposite is now true.

"The clients we deal with wouldn't be putting these proposals on the table if they didn't think something was going to come of them," he said.

"We expect to see a lot more in the coming year."

Mr Murray said the traditional student path, of halls of residence followed by shared housing, was quickly becoming outdated, and areas such as Crookes and Broomhall no longer offered the convenience and modern facilities that many students seek.

The trend for students moving to the city centre, he said, was only going to continue, with international students and postgraduates adding to the population.

This will help create a more vibrant city centre, Mr Murray said. And with developers now designing buildings that can easily be adapted for non-student use, saturation is unlikely.

"While the student market is hot and while there's an under-supply of student living I don't see why you would even consider refusing these schemes," he added.

Sheffield Hallam University is the sixth largest in the UK, and had 31,483 students enrolled in 2015/16, although the university says this does not equate to the number who need student accommodation as many students live in Sheffield already or are within a commutable distance.

Head of accommodation services Karen Burke said picking the right type of accommodation was 'an important part of the university experience' and while there was no specific policy, plenty of support was available.

"We provide free advice on lots of different aspects of accommodation to ensure our students can make an informed choice about where they are going to live," she said.

"This includes looking at proximity to the campus where they study (city centre or Collegiate Crescent), budget, and local amenities such as the availability of shops and public transport links.

"We also run a private housing sector scheme - called Snug - with Sheffield Council and the Students’ Union Advice Centre. The scheme is a property inspection standard awarded when properties meet the required criteria and the landlord is considered ’fit and proper’.

"The scheme is promoted by both universities as the best way for students to make sure their home and landlord are approved - this includes purpose built student accommodation."

The University of Sheffield had 27,230 students in 2015/16 - although again, not all need accommodation.

The university said the choice of where to live depended on what students were looking for. It has an accommodation guarantee so most students will go into university-owned accommodation when they first arrive in Sheffield.

Those who don't either choose purpose-built accommodation with all bills included, or a house or flat living with friends in more residential areas.

The university said the options were distinct with different rental rates.

Working with the Students' Union, the university puts forward a campaign called Smart Move every year. One aspect of this is house hunting, in which students are given all types of information including the many different areas in which they can choose to live and the different types of accommodation available to them.

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Coda Planning director Adam Murray.

Coda Planning director Adam Murray.

The proposed development off Ecclesall Road.

The proposed development off Ecclesall Road.