Recycling some of the 850,000 long term vacant properties in the UK may be the key to the looming student accommodation crisis

10 November 2014

Recycling some of the 850,000 long term vacant properties in the UK may be the key to the looming student accommodation crisis

Student Property Market Flawed - Looming Student Accommodation Crisis - Lack of Campus Beds – Hampshire Students Put Up in Hotels - New Thinking Called For

With the UK creating a more educated society and ‘A’ level results improving year on year, students are trading up to better universities, but while the courses may be available the actual towns may not be able to accommodate them.

The University intake in 2014 was up by 30,000 over the previous year without appropriate housing stock to accommodate the increase and in 2015 their will be no Government restrictions at all on intake numbers. So with an increased number of First year students seeking campus accommodation and the UK housing crisis becoming more extreme. Some universities are being accused of being greedy; with cases of students sharing already overcrowded ‘halls’ and some having to sleep on bunk beds in rooms originally envisaged for single occupancy becoming more common.

In Hampshire, Winchester University is putting students up in hotels as far away as Southampton forcing students to endure 80 mile round trips to get to lectures each day. What are the plans for 2015 if the intake figures rise again? What are the housing solutions that are being put in place?

Sevi Rixson, MD of student property development and investment specialist Urban Student believes the answer lies in recycling ‘Empty Homes’. In the UK there is an estimated 850,000 properties that are long term vacant and have been un-tenanted for six months and beyond. Often long term ‘Empty Homes’ have fallen into disrepair with owners lacking the funds or the skills to repair, refurbish and manage the property. Add in a proportion of commercial B1 property that could be converted to residential under Permitted Development and a further 450,000 homes could be created.

Sevi Rixson comments: “An empty property is a wasted property and has a negative impact on the environment and local community when it could be providing a much-needed home for a local person, a family or in the case of oversubscribed university towns, local students.”

“With recycling high on the agenda for UK Plc, this is another instance where redundant and vacant homes can undergo renovation and refurbishment to create good quality accommodation for general rental as well as the student market, helping to regenerate run down areas. The issue with student accommodation is that at the start of a new academic year, popular university towns experience a huge influx of new tenants causing an imbalance in the property market. Rather than building new blocks of pod style accommodation to house this increase I believe in that recycling our empty housing stock is the smarter move.”

With vacant office accommodation, space above retail and other commercial B1 property can also be successfully converted into C3 residential under the Permitted Development Rights (PD) scheme. Here change of use is permitted with permission granted not by the local authority but by Parliament. However, to qualify tenants must be in place before the current May 2016 deadline, so vendors and property owns need to seize the day to comply with current legislation.

Flats above shops have no residential planning use class, even though they are clearly laid out as dwellings. A report carried out for the government estimated that there were in excess of 300,000 flats in this state in England alone. 

Most Local Authorities have a dedicated Empty Homes Officer who can help identify suitable properties whilst speeding up the process of Compulsory Purchase Orders. With 80% of owners of empty properties actually living within the locality they will benefit in the long run from being part of the community and the knowledge that they are helping to regenerate the community.

Sevi Rixson concludes: “At Urban Student we use our market knowledge, management expertise and buying power to identify and acquire properties which will be good quality accommodation that appeals to students as well as deliver good yields and good asset value growth for investors. We then oversee all aspects of the purchase, including legal compliance and HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) licensing as required; redevelop and decorate the property to meet today’s living requirements. We even take on the long-term management as required. This means the university towns in which we operate can better meet the needs of increasing student numbers plus have a better reputation for having good, affordable property. This in turn attracts more students and investors – together bringing more money into the town.

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