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Manchester City Council is smoothing the path for a 35% affordable accommodation requirement on purpose-built student accommodation, and it is pondering ways to make landlords pay for the extra costs high-density PBSA creates.

The new requirements follow a policy rethink that concluded the city’s student housing stock is poor quality, too expensive and that landlords are getting away with shirking the social cost of their schemes.

The city restricted PBSA development in the early part of the decade when PBSA risked consuming many of the city’s best sites. Now the council is offering to open up the market, but on its own terms.

It is going to mean big changes in the next few years for the UK’s second-largest PBSA sector, which totals around 24,000 beds.

A report to councillors by the city’s new strategic economic director, Louise Wyman, will open up a market that has been constrained by city policy since 2012, but will still impose some uncomfortable checks. 

Development will be restricted to the Oxford Road corridor and its immediate neighbourhoods, with the exception of student housing close to Manchester City FC’s Etihad sports campus.

“Manchester is one of the most expensive cities in the UK for PBSA. A more diverse pipeline of new PBSA is now needed to help stabilise rental growth. It is critical to ensure there is a residential market, which meets the needs of students at an affordable price,” the report said, adding: “The overall quality of Manchester’s PBSA stock is poor compared to other cities.”

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The student room of your dreams

The raft of new proposals include following the London policy of making up to 35% of student accommodation affordable and making it necessary for developers to sign up to the principles of one of the three codes of practice required for higher education providers, which aim to ensure that accredited student accommodation is safe, good quality and reputable. The principal document is the ANUK/Unipol Code of Standards for Larger Developments for Student Accommodation Not Managed and Controlled by Educational Establishment. 

The report also added ominously that today “owners of PBSA are not required to pay business rates on this accommodation, meaning that they currently do not make a direct tax contribution to the place making or management of the areas in which they are located, despite the additional management issues that can arise from a concentration of student tenants”.

The document concludes that action to correct this may be necessary. “There may be opportunities to look at reducing the impact of this through the planning process, as part of the renewed Local Plan policies,” it said.

The new policy follows a consultation with six property developers who responded to the draft proposals. They argued for more flexibility about locations for PBSA, and said “the suggestion to follow the Mayor of London’s approach needs further consideration”.

The council said any such policy would have to await the introduction of the city’s new statutory planning document, which is now being drafted, and clarified that the locations for development included “surrounding neighbourhoods such as Hulme and Ardwick which are immediately adjacent to the university campuses, for example, appropriate sites on Cambridge Street and Upper Brook Street”.