Student accommodation vs Affordable Housing for rent

Briefing notes on:

Student accommodation vs Affordable Housing for rent

 Planning background

 It is worth pointing out that planning is not as straightforward as it appears to be – and the upperhand seems to be the control of developers. It’s a capitalism system!

Planning Committee can’t refuse applications just because they don’t like them…need to be on planning grounds, contained within planning policy documents.

The main one is the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] introduced by Tory-led coalition in March 2012 – designed to make the planning system less complex and more accessible – and vastly simplify the number of policy pages about planning.

Paragraph 11 of the NPPF states: “Planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.”

Key to the NPPF paragraph 14: “At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.”

As a result developers bring forward only developments that make them money> More often than not, they seek planning permission for what they want to sell [4- or 5-bed detached houses] rather than what Exeter needs more of [1-, 2- or 3-bed homes]. And until thy think they can sell these properties, they often “land bank”.

If Planning Committee turn down applications for spurious reasons, they may be overturned by the Planning Inspectorate – prefer decisions to be made at local level, rather than a beaurocrat in Bristol or beyond.

Student Accommodation

Whether we like it or not, the University is expanding – and ECC has little or no control of increase in student numbers.

And these students need to be housed somewhere.

In 2007, ECC introduced a Supplementary Planning Document [SPD] which aimed for the provision of as much purposed-built student accommodation [PBSA] as possible to reduce the impact on the private sector housing.

The SPD sets out 9 principles relevant to consideration of proposals related to the University. The relevant principles are as follows:
– ECC will expect 75% of additional student numbers attending the University to be accommodated within purpose-built accommodation.
– ECC will seek the provision of as much purpose-built student housing as possible to reduce the impact on the private sector housing market.
– ECCrecognises that relatively high density managed accommodation on appropriate sites will need to make a significant contribution to meeting future [student housing] needs.
– ECC favours provision of further student accommodation in the following general locations:- City Centre – St David’s Station/Cowley Bridge Road area and more intensive use of the Duryard Campus, with some provision of the Streatham Campus.

In addition, ECC issued Supplementary Planning Guidance on Student Accommodation Development in Residential areas in 2008. The guidance noted that changes of use from family dwellings to student occupation was likely to have most impact upon the character and balance of a community because of the loss of other age groups as well as the introduction of more students. It is proposed to restrict further student accommodation in all these forms in areas where there is considered to be an over concentration of students.

The guidance introduced proposals that require planning permission may take the following forms:
• New developments, extensions or conversions into student hall accommodation
• Construction, extension or changes of use to HMO accommodation.
• New dwellings, conversions or changes of use to dwellings that have an internal design that may be intended for student occupation.
• Extensions of existing dwellings where there is evidence of occupation by students

And from 2014, ECC introduced an Article 4 Direction, to limit excessive concentrations of student Houses in Multiple Occupation [HMO] in some wards to avoid adverse impacts upon those areas.

One of the biggest benefits that come with PBSAs is that they reduce pressure on the existing housing stock.

There is an outline planning application for a new PBSA on East on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus [ECC Planning Application 16/1232/01]. The application is for 1300 units of student accommodation.

If these students where to be accommodated in HMO, this would need some 260 houses [assuming 5 students to a house] – that’s the equivalent to 2 Victoria Streets taken up to house these 1300 additional students. By delivering this PBSA we prevent that happening – allowing local families to have homes, or even freeing up existing HMO to be used by single private renters under the age of 35, who are only entitled to housing benefit at the shared accommodation rate

Like private developments being delivered by volume house builders, PBSA do generate profit for the developer. And what a profit!

The Printworks – one of Exeter biggest blocks of student flats, 492 studio and multi-bedroom/cluster apartments on Western Way – was sold for £40m just a year after it was completed at a cost of £16m. [Huge block of 500 student flats in Exeter sells for £40mE&E On-line, 16 August 2014].

One of the problems we face is that planning applications for PBSA seem to hit the pages of the Express & Echo precisely to cause outrage – well I say pages, its mainly for the benefit of social media, where it’s known as click-bait which it turn earns money for the Echo.

With PBSA, ECC Planning Committee are able to impose conditions on the development – most notably in regards to the need for a management plan, which often takes the forms of: “Members noted that a Management Plan for the day to day operation of the Student Accommodation was required to be implemented by way of a legal agreement”.

PBSA in the city centre are close to the clubs, pubs and other entertainment on offer in Exeter, and students returning home cause little or no disturbance to local residents – one of the problems arising out of PBSA on the University campus  is the transient noise of students returning home after a night in the city centre.

Social Housing

“Offering affordable housing choices whilst building and supporting communities”.

Unlike many local authorities, ECC is a stock-holding authority

ECC current has a housing stock of around 5,000 properties – and housing associations in the region of 3,000.

In 2013, ECC took out £56m loan to buy this our own stock under a scheme known as self-financing. The aim was to give us control over our own destiny.

But it’s not quite working out like that – we knew that we would still have to retain Right To Buy.

When we bought the properties, we had to submit a business plan.  At the time, the Govt insisted that the plan set out a formula for rent increases over 10 years – 1% over CPI for 10 years. However, last year reneged on that promise with provisions in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, which requires registered providers of social housing in England to reduce social housing rents by 1% year on year for 4 years from a frozen 2015 to 2016 baseline.

Initially this seems a good deal for tenants – but what it means for ECC is that £8m will be lost from Housing Revenue Account [HRA] – money lost for planned maintenance and emergency repairs, but most importantly for building more social housing.

When we moved to self-financing, the £56m loan took us to the Govt imposed borrowing cap – Labour’s pledge to remove this cap would allow ECC to take on extra borrowing to help cover the cost of building more social housing.

Council Own Build Programme

Since coming back into power in Autumn 2010, ECC has been building council houses – not many, not enough, but at times the best in the SW and 5th in the UK.

– 3 properties at Rowan House in Sivell Place, Heavitree

– 18 one and two-bedroom apartments forming Knights Place, off Merlin Crescent in Mincinglake

– 6 at Barberry Close off Bennett Square in Mincinglake
– 8 at Silverberry Close off Brookway in Whipton
– 6 at Reed Walk in Priory. Reed Walk, Newport Road

All of these had been developed on in-fill sites – former garage sites and similar.

Currently being built on-site now,  26 one and two bedroom apartments to provide quality housing that for elderly residents, on the car park next to Rennes House.


Plans for the future include an £10m [with additional funding from Govt] Extra Care scheme designed to provide 50 affordable homes for residents over 55 with care needs in Millbrook Village situated off Topsham Road. These are being specifically designed to help assist people with dementia.

All of these have been or will be built to Passivhaus standard – a world leading standard in energy efficient design and construction. Means reduced energy bills for our residents – help address fuel poverty.

It is  is slightly more expensive to build to PassivHaus standard – but not too much more. And it’s a cost we think is worth bearing.

ECC have been pioneering this standard  – we were the first local authority to adopt PassivHaus, and now others now – such as Plymouth and Nowich to name but two – are following our lead.

And our expertise is being shared – ECC and major partners joined together as Exeter Sustainable Energy Efficient Developments [EXESeed] Contractors Framework to assist in the procurement of contractors to deliver energy efficient developments across the City, and beyond.

For more information on Exeter City Council’s PassivHaus programme is contained with a Low Energy Development Information Pack.

And we arenow looking at ways of retro-fitting PassivHaus – or other energy efficency measures – to our properties. On Monday 07 Novemeber, ECC’s Exectutive approved funding for an EU pilot to look at trialling such measures.

This innovated policy needs to be set against Govt’s decision to abolish the The Code for Sustainable Homes, which was announced in a Written Ministerial Statement by Eric Pickles on 25 March 2015. Now houses only need to be to BREEM Code 4 in relation to water and energy targets

Affordable housing for rent

First a few terms [from NPPF]:
– Affordable housing: Social rented, affordable rented, intermediate housing, provided to eligible households whose needs are not met by the market. Sometimes self-build housing is considered affordable housing  Eligibility is determined with regard to local incomes and local house prices.

Affordable housing should include provisions to remain at an affordable price for future eligible households or for the subsidy to be recycled for alternative affordable housing provision.

– Social rented housing is owned by local authorities and private registered providers (as defined in section 80 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008), for which guideline target rents [50% of local market rent[  are determined through the national rent regime.hority or with the Homes and Communities Agency.

– Affordable rented housing is let by local authorities or private registered providers of social housing to households who are eligible for social rented housing.. Affordable Rent is subject to rent controls that require a rent of no more than 80% of the local market rent (including service charges, where applicable).

– Intermediate housing is homes for sale and rent provided at a cost above social rent, but below market levels subject to the criteria in the Affordable Housing definition above. These can include shared equity (shared ownership and equity loans), other low cost homes for sale and intermediate rent, but not affordable rented housing.

Homes that do not meet the above definition of affordable housing, such as “low cost market” housing, may not be considered as affordable housing for planning purposes.

ECC presses for as much affordable housing to be for social rent

ECC has a clear policy contained in Core Strategy/Local Plan [adopted 2011] for 35% affordable housing on all developments of 10 or more [initially 3 or more, but Govt changed low limit in 2013!].

This can be in the form of housing on-site or a commuted sum for such housing elsewhere in the city.

And we have a Housing Enabling Team that vigorously enforces this!

Developers try it on: over-stating costs and under-estimating profits.

McCarthy & Stone lodged an application for land next to Sainsbury in Pinhoe – said could afford total cost of affordable housing that was required by ECC. Took to appeal and independent accessor said they could. Came back with a revised offer – but still too low to be acceptable – planning permission refused, but now back talking to ECC!

And another developer said before it came before committee that it couldn’t afford any social housing as it spent too much on acquiring the land. Ended up paying ECC a commuted sum of £1m

Some figures:
In 2010/11, 108 affordable homes
In 2011/11, ECC delivered 170 affordable homes
In 2012/13, ECC delivered 26 affordable homes
In 2013/14, ECC delivered 100 affordable homes
In 2014/15, ECC delivered 80 affordable homes
In 2015/16, ECC delivered 74 affordable homes

And 254 currently being build on-site, and more in the pipeline as planning permission has been granted for them.

Threats for the future

Housing and Planning Act seems to remove requirement for affordable housing for rent –

– Starter housing for sale.

Exclusively for first time buyers aged over 23 and under 40, and for sale at 20% per cent below normal market prices. The Act creates a new duty on all local authority planning departments to promote the supply of starter homes in their area.

The Act also allows the government to set regulations requiring starter homes to be included on residential sites as a condition of securing planning permission.

 Sale of higher value vacant local authority homes

Tory manifesto set out plans to require local authorities who have retained ownership of their stock to sell higher value homes as they become vacant.

Govt may impose levy on such properties – even if LA doesn’t sell them. And levy goes to Govt to finance Right to Buy on Housing Association properties.

So much for self-financing!

– High income social tenants: mandatory rents (Pay to stay)

The Act requires local authority tenants with a higher income to pay a higher rent. Initially a ‘higher income’ will be defined as a household earning more than £31,000 per year, or £40,000 in London.

Thus a household with 2 adults and a non-dependent chlld earning the *National* Living Wage could be deemed as High Income

ECC currently deem household income of £60k as high income.

The Act requires local authorities to return any additional rental income generated by the policy (minus administrative costs) to the Treasury – again so much for sel-financing!

– Right to Buy

 All Right to Buy receipts – both from local authorities and housing associations – to be returned to Govt, so new replacement homes could, no will, be built elsewhere in the country!

Studentification in St David’s



The increasing number of student housing in St David’ Neighbourhood area has been a concern for local residents who ask if the nature of the community in the Neighbourhood is now becoming unbalanced.

St David’s Neighbourhood Partnership committee has been asked to consider the issues involved and has put together this information for local residents, to give some more information about what’s involved.

The number of students attending universities has increased massively right across the world.


It is recognised that this can put considerable pressure on local neighbourhoods where private houses are let out to students and, in particular, where ‘developers’ and speculators get planning permission to put up large student blocks in residential areas.

Is this a problem? Yes if it causes neighbourhoods to become imbalanced or drives residents to move away, or if appropriate services and infrastructure are not provided alongside the developments, or if the developments/blocks are just plain ugly.

Recognising this issue, Exeter City Council commissioned Dr Darren Smith [Loughborough University], an expert on ‘studentification’, to produce a report. The Planning Department issued the report proposing that, to deal with the expected increase in student numbers , more student ‘blocks, would be needed [these blocks are called Purpose Built Student Accommodation or PBSA]. How would this work?

The increase from 2006, around the time that Point Exe in Bonhay Road was built, to 2030 is around 10,000. St David’s Neighbourhood, which already has a very high proportion of students living here, is not protected from this. The Council puts a limit on the ‘percentage’ of students living in houses in any one area [usually 20%] but it does not count the number of students living in PBSA in that percentage.


Students ‘desire’ to be near the main campus and therefore do not wish to ‘travel’ from wards further from the main campus. The clustering of students close to the main campus is illustrated in the Council’s map below:

Petition to Government:
Faced with the existing number and planned increase of students living in our respective neighbourhoods, St David’s and St James signed a petition to Government with the City of Chester and others and this was supported by Ben Bradshaw MP.

We also had a meeting with Ben Bradshaw who is now calling a meeting of all MPs from university cities to look at how the pressure on local people of high levels of student accommodation in their areas can be addressed.

Durham University:
There is also a major conference at Durham University, with the National Organisation of Residents’ Associations [NORA], on 20 July 2016 to look at the impact of studentification.

A key issue is that the development of blocks is by private developers (not universities) and is for ‘ investment’ purposes because they are able to charge high rents and achieve double-digit returns on their investment. This in turn creates a burden on students, particularly UK students, who are faced with these high rental costs.

St David’s Neighbourhood Partnership Committee is a member of the Joint Strategy Group with the university and is continuing to look into these issues.

Chair, SDNP

#ECCplanning | Radmore & Tucker

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Exeter City Council’s Planning Committee considered the application [15/1086/03] to build student accommodation on the site of Radmore & Tucker on Frog Street (which we all know as Western Way).

I had grave concerns about this application, so after the Planning Officer presented his report I spoke against the plan:

Thank you Chair, I’ll try and be brief…but there are several points that I would like to bring to your attention.

Of course, I’ll try and restrict them to material considerations – but I may take the liberty to stray from those in one or two area

But before I start with the material I’ve planned, I would like to say that I concur with what’s been said about retaining the view of the Cathedral from the mediaeval bridge.

I spent many years in the Midlands – and at times, in Coventry where the city centre is a post-war concrete jungle and where the current Radmore & Tucker building would be considered a contender for the Sterling Prize.

Yet even there the town planners respected the view of the ruins of the old Cathedral – right up until they plonked a new shopping centre slap bang in the middle of the vista – destroying both the view and the vision.

You only have one chance to get this right – don’t follow Coventry’s example.

Since March 2012 one of the major pieces of material consideration is the National Planning Policy Framework.

And most importantly, that NPPF introduces a presumption in favour of sustainable development which is the “golden thread” running through planning.

But what does that really mean?

I hope that it isn’t that any development that can turn a profit for developers is sustainable? 

The NPPF helps a little in that states that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development:

  • of good design;
  • an economic role;
  • a social role supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities through supplying housing to meet existing and future needs;
  • an environmental role but expands this to helping to protect the natural, built and historic environments);and
  • to move to a low carbon economy to address climate change

I would have hoped that the documentation accompanying the application might help enlighten me on many of theses points.

But to me it doesn’t – there’s lots of pictures, but in this case none of the pictures appears to be worth a 1000 words.

And I note that Historic England have serious misgivings over these photo-montages

The NPPF sets out 12 core principles that should underpin planning.

I just want to cover a few of those core principles

In Section 1 of NPPF “Building a strong, competitive economy” the aim appears to be   to should support existing business sectors, so I ask myself how this development will support the thriving and growing artistic community and independent shops we are starting to see flourishing along Fore Street?

Section 6 “Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes” looks ensure a suitable supply supply of housing.

In particular it aims to deliver a choice of quality homes to create sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities.

 I am aware that this council has a Supplementary Planning Document [SPD] that seek to deliver purpose-built student accommodation [DOWNLOAD from here]– and looks to the city centre as the location for much of this.

However, each and every application that comes before this committee seems to be aimed at the high-end and luxury market.

What happens to those students that can’t afford the rents for these units?

It’s probably not a material planning consideration, but we have a 35% affordable housing threshold for those larger estates on the outside the city centre – which has delivered 600 affordable homes for mainly social rent over the pat 5 years, and there are 2000 such homes in the pipleline.

When are we going to see developers of purpose-built student accommodation starting to offer units to grow such inclusive and mixed communities?

At section 7 “Requiring good design”, the NPPF states that good design is a key aspect of sustainable development, and it is important to plan positively for the achievement of high quality and inclusive design for all developments, including individual buildings, public and private spaces.

Is this a “good design”?

Well it might be better than what’s currently there – but to my mind that doesn’t make it inherently “good”!

It seems to be a series of blocks that takes no account of the surrounding streetscape and landscape.

There are no appropriate innovations and seems to contradict paragraph 58 which seeks to ensure that developments respond to local character and history, and reflect the identity of local surroundings and materials.

All around the development site are buildings of historic importance – yet the design fails to take any account of distinctive brick and stonework of the 2 local churches

It does little or nothing to promote or reinforce the local distinctiveness and character highlighted by the House That Moves.

And in particular it does nothing to integrate this new development into the historic environment.

Years ago, our predecessors thought this area of sufficient value to designate is as a Conservation Area – are you about to go against that legacy?

And to be clear Paragraph 64 of the NPPF gives you permission to refuse a development of poor design that fails to take the opportunities available for improving the character and quality of an area.

Some of this is reinforced in section 12 “Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment” which recognises that heritage assets are an irreplaceable resource and should be conserved in a manner appropriate to their significance.

The NPPF requires applicants to describe the significance of any heritage assets affected, including any contribution made by their setting.

The NPPF seeks to ensure that there are no detrimental impacts on the reasonable outlook and amenity of immediate neighbours – some of the objections I’ve seen suggest that there will be detrimental impact.

Another factor that is covered in NPPF is a desire that landscaping delivers a good standard of amenity for all.

The only amenity I see mentioned in relation to this development is the roof gardens – and they’re not even available for all residents of this building, only the occupants of the duplex penthouses, let alone the wider community.

And at the height suggested in the application, these roof gardens will affect the views of the setting in contravention of NPPF section 12 “Conserving and Enhancing the Historic Environment”

The NPPF at section 4 “Promoting Sustainable Transport” states that transport policies have an important role to play in facilitating sustainable development but also in contributing to wider sustainability and health objectives.

I have reservations about green travel plans being used to prove that a development is sustainable – yet I haven’t seen even this among the documentation.

There is mention of cycle storage – but why have I also seen reference to car parking spaces?

Surely the advantage a city centre location for purpose-built student accommodation is that a car isn’t needed?

I welcome the comments from the Planning Officer that the parking spaces would be for disabled use only.

So I believe that when assessed against the policy guidance contained within the NPPF, there are sufficient grounds to warrant refusal.

Thank you for listening

The committee then determined the application and decided to REFUSE planning permission.

Alex Richards: Thrown Out: City planners reject luxury student flats which would have blocked historic Exeter view [Express & Echo, 05 January 2016]


Purpose-Built Student Accommodation and HMOs in #Exeter

‘We don’t want more student flats’ says the Express &Echo headline as a major initiative to upgrade Exeter’s football stadium as the plans were put on display to the public for the first time [‘We don’t want more student flats’ – Exeter City’s St James’s Park redevelopment plan divides opinionE&E, 27 July 2015].

The reason that student accommodation appears to be gettting build is due the nature of the planning process.

The planning committee can only grant plannning permission for schemes that come forward – and they have to follow the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] which acts as guidance for local planning authorities and decision-takers, both in drawing up plans and making decisions about planning applications.

At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.

As a result developers bring forward only developments that make them money.

Contrary to popular opinion these are NOT being build by Exeter City Council, nor are they being delivered by the University – they are being developed by commercial firms, with the aim of making a profit.

And what a profit they can make. The Printworks – one of Exeter biggest blocks of student flats, 492 studio and multi-bedroom/cluster apartments on Western Way – was sold for £40 million just a year after it was completed at a cost of £16m [Huge block of 500 student flats in Exeter sells for £40 millionE&E, 16 August 2014].

Sadly,none of this profit is reinvested back into the communities that have been affected by this development. Perhaps we should investigate a version of overage – a system that allows a seller of land to share in the potential future increase in value of the land that such seller has sold. Just imagine if just a small percentage of that £24m profit could be used by ECC?

There is a perception that ECC allow each and every application for purpose-built student accommodation to be given permission. That may seem the case, because planning officers have been working hard behind the scenes making sure that only ones that meet planning conditions come forward.

And some of those planning conditions are contained within a Supplementary Planning Document [SPD] for development related to the University of Exeter  from 2007 [DOWNLOAD here : University Supplementary Planning Guidance] which outlines nine general principles  which can carry some weight as material considerations in the determination of planning applications.

These guidelines include the following:
– Seeks the provision of as much purpose built student housing as possible to reduce the impact on the private sector housing market.
-Recognises that relatively high density managed accommodation on appropriate sites will need to make a significant contribution to meeting future needs. Developments will be permitted subject to management and supervision arrangements appropriate to the size, location and nature of occupants of schemes. A standard form of planning obligation relating to management arrangements is available from the Council. The planning obligation is enforceable against owners of the land and they will be required to ensure through terms of tenancy agreements that tenants adhere to the management scheme.
– Favours provision of further student accommodation in the following general locations:
– The City Centre
– St David’s Station/Cowley Bridge Road area
– More intensive use of the Duryard Campus
– Seeks the investigation of student accommodation as a priority for use of any surplus land at St Luke’s campus.

Following a public consultation exercise, this SPD was passed by ECC’s Executive on a meeting held on 19 June 2007.

And not ALL planning applications for purpose-build student accommodation are given approval.

At the Planning Committee meeting held on 25 July 2011 , Vita Student was given planning permission to re-develop Portland House in Longbrook Street as 153 studio apartments (11/0895/03). [Exeter student homes bid set to be approvedE&E, 18 July 2011]

But that wasn’t enough for Vita – in 2013 the company sought planning permission for a further 10 flats at roof top level (13/4435/03) but this was refused by the city’s planning committee on 28 October 2013 when they felt that the extra floor would be overbearing [Planning application sought to increase size of planned student accommodation in Portland HouseE&E15 October 2013].

Vita immediately appealed to the Panning Inspectorate – but at the same time submitted a compromise application (13/4843/03), this time seeking permission for an extra 6 rooftop apartments rather than 10.

Again, this application was refused – at the meeting held on 13 January 2014 [Rooftop level student apartments in Exeter are turned down by city councillorsE&E, 14 January 2014]. Vita also appealed this decision,

While the appeal was still in progress, Vita were advertising the fact that all 161 apartments had been sold to investors [New student apartments in Exeter sell out as investors snap them upE&E, 30 November 2013].

Of course it came to pass that the Planning Inspector upheld both the appeals [Appeal A for 166 apartments and Appeal B for 162 – DOWNLOAD Decision Letter HERE].

The main objections to the proposals were unacceptably increased overbearing and overshadowing impact by reason of increased massing of the building. The Inspector’s report then considered the differences in the two schemes as opposed to the original permission.

He considered the new building would blend seamlessly with the design of the upper floors. The building, being located at the southern end of Longbrook Street, is in close proximity to a number of other tall buildings. In this context, he considered the impact of the limited additional mass created at 6th floor height to be unexceptional, with no adverse impact on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. It therefore represented acceptable design that preserves the character of the Conservation Area and would not harm the living conditions of neighbours.

So what has all this development of purpose-built student accommodation meant for Exeter? Figures obtained by the Express & Echo reveal the number of student dwellings in the city rose from 1,495 in October 2009 to 2,975 in October 2014 – an increase of 98.99%. [Student properties in Exeter increase by 98% over five years, E&E, 10 February 2015].

But the same report also adds a quote from  a University of Exeter spokesman said: “The University is committed to reducing pressure on the city’s housing stock by accommodating more students on campus” and added that £130 million worth of new student accommodation has recently been built on its Streatham Campus to provide space for 2,600 students.

The report highlighted that in the past three years the number of shared houses  – houses in multiple occupancation [HMOs] – for students  has stabilised and in some areas declined.

Recent figures show that over 260 HMO previously occupied by students are lo longer used for this purpose – that means nearly 300 properties are now being used to house young professionals who are not students, or have reverted to family homes.

ECC have taken action to limit excessive concentrations of student HMOs to avoid adverse impacts upon areas via an Article 4 Direction.

In February 2010, the previous Government announced that it proposed to create a new use class (C4 Small HMOs) to bring such uses within planning control.   This change took effect on 6 April 2010

Prior to this time, a group of 3-6 people living as a single household (such as a shared student house) was not treated as a material change of use from a Class C3 family dwelling.

In June 2010 the Coalition Government announced that it intended to retain the new Use Class, but from October it intended to treat changes of use from Class C3 to Class C4 as Permitted Development that would not normally require planning permission. If Councils wish to exercise planning control over changes from Class C3 to C4 they need to make Article Four Directions removing permitted development rights. Following a short limited consultation, the Government announced on 7 September that it would proceed with this approach and laid the regulations before Parliament

The Executive meeting of 28 September 2010 considered a report on Planning issues relating to HMOs for 3-6 students – Proposed Article 4 Direction and amended planning policy. The report sought agreement to a proposed Article 4 Direction to remove permitted development rights for such uses in parts of Exeter and to undertake further work on proposed amendments to the Council’s Supplementary Planning Guidance on Student Accommodation including further public consultation.

The results of that consutation

On 07 December 2010, the Executive received a petition from 772 residents of St James requesting that:

Exeter City Council, as a matter of urgency, implement planning policies, including Article 4 Direction, which:

1. Prevent any further conversions to HMOs, except in those streets where the existing high number of HMOs has already significantly harmed the family residential character and where, therefore, it may be in the resident’s or residents’ interest to allow further conversions;

2. Provide for all future Exeter University student accommodation in purpose-built developments on the campus itself or on discrete (individually distinct or separate) sites outside St. James’ and other established residential neighbourhoods;

3. Strengthen the residential character and community cohesion of St. James’ Ward, including the identification of sites for new familyaccommodation in order to help reverse the harmful studentification process.

The Press Notice giving notice of confirmation of Article 4 Direction under the Town & Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (as amended) was issued on 23 December 2010m with the Direction coming into force on 31st December 2011.

The Executive meeting on 05 July 2011 considered a report outlining results of public consultation on a draft Houses in Multiple Occupation Supplementary Planning Document.

The responses to the public consultation can be downloaded HERE and there was also a precis of comments.

With effect from 1 January 2012, the Council now resist any further changes of use to houses in multiple occupation within the area shown stippled on Plan 1, where the proportion of homes exempt from Council Tax already exceeds 20%. In other words the Council will regard a proportion greater than 20% as an over-concentration of HMO use for the purposes of Policy H5 (b).

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                                                Article 4 Direction plan 1

The area covered by the Article 4 Direction was revised in 2014 – and following a new public consultation, on 21 January 2014 the Executive consider a report and decided to adopted an amended Houses in Multiple Occupation SPD which applies further restrictions on HMOs to comprise the entire area subject to the Article 4 Direction. This involves extending the area to part of Duryard and Pennsylvania wards and two areas of Newtown ward where the proportion of Council Tax exemptions at the end of May 2013 was between 10% and 20%.

Screen shot 2015-08-11 at 10.49.58
                       Area covered by amended Article 4 Direction [from January 2014]
Student housing – council tax

I often hear comment about the fact that full-time students are disregarded for Council Tax purposes. That means a property is exempt from Council Tax  if it is wholly occupied by full-time university or college students. Student halls of residence are automatically exempt. More details from Citizens Advice website.

The reason why properties occupied entirely by students are exempt is because students, unlike other groups of people on low incomes, are not normally entitled to income related benefits, such as housing and council tax benefit.

However, the Government does recognise the need to compensate local authorities for the loss of council tax income, which would otherwise have to be borne by other local residents.

So ECC is compensated to some degree by central  government funding for the extent that it has had to grant student Council Tax exemptions and discounts. This funding is reflected in the annual local government finance settlement
which distributes Formula Grant among the various local authorities.  The trouble is the Formula Grant distribution mechanism is based on a complex formula, one aspect of which takes account of  the relative ability of different councils to raise council tax (known as “resource equalisation”).

The variation in the level of exemptions and discounts for Council Tax for students is compensated to some extent through this resource equalisation adjustment to the amount of Formula Grant allocated to each local authority, but it is not a like-for-like relationship.

The allowance for student exemptions in the Formula Grant was always based on historical date, which has no kept pace with the increase of student numbers at the University of Exeter and that tenuous link was further eroded when Formula Grant replaced by Revenue Support Grant [RSG] in 2013.

There is a strong school of opinion in local government circles that the reduction of central government funding for local authorities will significantly undermine the effectiveness of the compensation a local authority receives for student Council Tax exemptions and discounts.

Further Reading:
Exeter CAB: Exeter: Town vs Gown? The housing challenges faced by a university city in Dispatches from the front lines of the housing crisis [Citizens Advice, 16 June 2015]


@ExeterPound – a different view of #Exeter

Exeter Pound selfie board
Exeter Pound selfie board

One of the problems we have as a City Council is we are always known for the big projects.

Purpose built student housing rather than delivering social housing.

Just this month Exeter City Councill finished building 14 Council-Own Build 3 bed homes. Built to high energy and environmental standards – the highly respected Passivhaus standard.

And that’s in addition to over 500 other social homes since 2009 – the majority for social rent – rather than the poorly named “affordable” rent. Again, there are more being built at the moment, and ambitious plans for the future.

And the day after I attended the preview night at John Lewis, I was less than 50m away at the launch of the Devon and Cornwall Food Association’s first home in Sidwell Street.

But it was when I was at the launch of the Exeter Trials maps at the Exeter Phoenix that it finally dawned on me – if each of the 100 indpendent businesses on the trial employed on average 3.5 people, the independent section in Exeter is bigger than John Lewis.

We don’t say that enough, so I’ll say it again.

The 101 businesses on the Exeter Trials employ more people than John Lewis.

And we know that Trail doesn’t include all the independents in the city – there are many many more of them trading all around our great city.

I want to help those independents and you  connect and engage with local communities

And I want to connect individuals to a wider variety of local, independent businesses in a colourful and engaging way.

In a way that can strengthening Exeter’s local economic character.

And in a way that can build financial and economic resilience.

A report by the New Economics Foundation highlights £1 spent in a local business creates £1.73 value for the local economy, but only 35p spent in a national supermarket chain

[New Economics Foundation The Money Trial]

Last year I was pleased that Exeter City Council Corporate Plan – Building a stronger sustainable city – promised to
“support the development of Exeter Pound to benefit local businesses”

And just 2 months ago, I and my labour colleagues were elected with a stronger commitment contained within our manifesto pledge to
“Support the development of the Exeter Pound local currency to support local businesses and independent traders.”

I believe it’s the way forward – so much so that I’ve already said that I will take a percentage of my Councillor allowance of £4500 per year in Exeter Pounds.

And that’s why I have agreed to join the board of Exeter Pound from next month

The Exeter Pound will foster stronger community connections, helping to bring together local consumers, businesses and suppliers who share a common interest: putting people and place over profits.

We want to celebrate Exeter’s rich history, culture and diversity, and recognize the need to look after our environment for future generations.

We’re all on a journey…

It’s a journey that I’ve enjoyed so, and I’m aware that one’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.

The Exeter Pound is this city’s new way of seeing things.

Come and look at the city from out point of view

Studentification in Exeter

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03 February 2015

Town vs. gown? The impact of ‘studentification’ on university towns

by Melanie Nowicki, former Intern – Families, Work and Welfare Policy

Here at Citizens Advice we spent some time last year thinking about the housing crisis and considering the debate. It was clear that there was a problem but the experiences of staff, volunteers and clients across the country didn’t always reflect the media coverage.

It seemed that the housing crisis felt very different in different places. We set about using our front-line experience to inform the national debate – by exploring problems through bureaux we could really understand the problems to ensure that we can help policy-makers and legislators find the right solutions.

There has been a growing concern in recent years that university towns are seeing the economic and social character of their local areas change drastically due to ever-rising student populations; a process termed ‘studentification’ by Darren Smith, Professor of Geography at the University of Loughborough. [1]

In Exeter, one of the research sites in a wider collaborative project between the Families, Welfare and Work team here at Citizens Advice and eight bureaux across the country, the growing student population has certainly had an effect on the city’s geography.

A short stroll from the local bureau reveals the recent trend for constructing purpose built student accommodation (PBSA). We wanted to understand more about such developments and what they mean for a city, its community and its students.

Over 12% of Exeter’s relatively small population are students. The university is the city’s largest employer; its employees and students undoubtedly bring prosperity to the area but high student numbers have inevitably distorted the local housing market.

According to Exeter City Council, more than 70% of known rental properties are occupied solely by students. Larger family homes tend to be divided up into houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), prioritising student over family needs. Higher demands for rented properties created by an increasing student population inevitably pushes up house prices, and local residents face increasing housing costs whilst remaining on below national average salaries [in Exeter house prices are on average nearly 10 times more than average annual incomes].

Local residents in areas of Exeter with a particularly high student population have also expressed concerns around not only the social impact of studentification but also increasing demand for shared accommodation.

A respondent to a public consultation reported that they felt that the character of their local area was changing for the worse, stating that the HMOs near her home were:

“A constant source of noise and rubbish pollution and at times of the year relegate parts of the community either to slums or ghost towns…They have no stake or interest in the community.”

She and other participants felt that their local areas had fallen victim to the ‘student ghettoisation’ of particular parts of the city, losing their original character and sense of community cohesion. For example, residents of the Pennsylvania area of Exeter have seen the closure of their local pub during university holiday periods due to the absence of the mainly student clientele.

It is worth reflecting that community bias against students appears almost indistinguishable from the wider concern about shared accommodation for young single people.

Solutions to the economic and social concerns that studentification brings to university towns have often centred on changing student accommodation patterns through investment in PBSA.

In Exeter, the City Council adopted a target that 75% of any future increase in the student population should be accommodated in PBSA rather than HMOs, a target they met in 2012/13. It has been hoped that an increase in PBSA will free up larger houses to be used by families rather than as HMOs, and that areas particularly affected by studentification will benefit as students move out of those areas into purpose built accommodation in less residential parts of the city.

But this may miss the point. In Exeter, it would appear that PBSA has done little to solve the issue. Exeter CAB’s research revealed that many landlords have been reluctant to adapt their property from HMOs to family homes as, under council directions, they are not able to change the property type back should they wish to. This has led to many larger properties either being left empty or being occupied by young single people rather than families once more. It seems that far from being the nightmare neighbours and tenants of urban myths, students are actually preferred to houses full of single people sharing.

PBSAs also push up private rents; the Knight Frank 2014 Student Property report found that students in Exeter were prepared to pay more than 30% more to live in a PBSA. This has potentially financially negative implications for locals looking to rent in the private rented sector, as well as students themselves, as those with lower incomes and less financial support are left struggling to afford to study in Exeter [now the third most expensive university town in the UK].

A wider social consequence of PBSA has been that, rather than decrease ‘student ghettoization’, they in fact encourage the further segregation of university towns, as students live in near-complete separation to local residents. This is a future as well as present concern, as students who stay living in their university towns after they graduate are more likely to remain segregated, creating a more permanent and far reaching ‘us and them’ dynamic in cities like Exeter.

On reflection it might appear that the problem of studentification is actually a far more complex matter of historical planning, transport links and community cohesion. Larger Victorian properties lend themselves to being split or shared; campus-based universities encourage clustering of students; transport links discourage dispersal and integration if young people cannot get to work or university. These factors and many others combine to create an environment in which students become both passive consumers and active drivers of the local housing market.

The issues faced by university towns tend to be framed negatively as a plight of ‘town versus gown’, and it is questionable whether attempts to resolve the problems of studentification have been successful. Although it remains a complex issue, perhaps it’s time policy makers begin to consider the ways in which local and student communities can be encouraged to integrate as a community, rather than be segregated further from each other.

This blog post is part of an ongoing research project working with bureaux across eight different regions across England and Wales, with the final report due to be published this spring. The project aims to understand the everyday realities of the various housing issues affecting people across the country, fulfilling the aims of Citizens Advice as an organisation to serve as ‘a window through which social workers and legislators could see the man on the street’.

[1] The Politics of Studentification and `(Un)balanced’ Urban Populations: Lessons for Gentrification and Sustainable Communities? Darren Smith, Department of Science and Engineering, University of Brighton, Lewes Road, Brighton, BN2 4GJ, UK,

This paper explores the politics of studentification in the UK. It is argued that there is a paradox between New Labour’s vision of sustainable communities and the geographical effects of the promotion of higher education—in a similar vein to policies to generate `positive’ gentrification. This contention hinges on the absence of a national policy on the supply of student housing, which dictates how enlarged student populations should be integrated into established communities, or dispersed to other parts of towns and cities. It is asserted that the lack of government policy and the incapacity of institutional actors to intervene or regulate the residential geographies of students are yielding `unbalanced’ populations. This is a factor in the rise of studentification and the fragmentation of established communities. Ironically, some activists argue these `lost’ communities signified lucid exemplars that the sustainable communities policy seeks to engender. These new geographies also obscure the positives of a student population and may foster resentment and conflict between students and established residents. More specifically, the paper illustrates how debates of planning and housing legislation are integral for addressing the challenges of studentification. The paper concludes by considering some possible lessons of studentification for mitigating the negatives of gentrification.

Exeter: Town vs Gown? The housing challenges faced by a university city

Exeter Citizens Advice logo




Exeter: Town vs Gown? The housing challenges faced by a university city

Exeter is a relatively small but prosperous city with growing student numbers.

In a population of almost 120,000 people, students currently account for just over 10% of residents. [1] The University is one of the city’s largest employers and as well as bringing prosperity to the area it also brings its challenges. In our research we set out to look at the impact of a large and growing number of university students on the city, how this is managed and its impact on the housing market.

Our research also considered the specific effects on both the housing market and the community in general of the large purpose built student accommodation blocks, which have proliferated in the city over recent years.

Exeter is a buoyant, growing city that has attracted large businesses and organisations such as the Met Office. The city has a traditional two tier government [County Council and City Council] with a predominantly Labour City Council. The rental market in the city is also buoyant, to the extent there is oversupply according to one city lettings agent. Housing is plentiful, although much of the rental housing stock in the city consists of older Victorian terraced properties. According to a report by the National Housing Federation, private renters in the South West are spending 35% of their earnings on rent – the third highest rent-to-income ratio in the country. [2]. In Exeter, where the average wage is £22,266 and the average private rent is £840 the ratio is even higher at 45.3%. [3]

According to the City Council more than 70% of houses in multiple occupation in the city are occupied solely by students. [4] Landlords who rent to students get a higher income from their properties than renting to professionals or families. Landlords say that properties in areas such as St James and Pennsylvania that are closer to the University demand higher rent and, to date, have always been the quickest to be let. Those houses further away from the University, such as Mount Pleasant and Polsloe, are often cheaper and in recent years have proved less popular with main campus students.

Until 2006/07, as the University grew, much of the new student population was absorbed by the rental market. This led to streets in some areas becoming almost 100% populated by students, and residents say that as a consequence the balance that had existed in these communities is being eroded.

Our evidence was gathered through interviews and informal discussions with a variety of people. We spoke to residents, students, the University of Exeter Students’ Guild, university representatives, landlords, lettings agents and the City Council.

The evidence was gathered in two phases:

Firstly, secondary research was collected via desktop reviews of recent newspaper articles and academic research, and from telephone interviews with City Council representatives. This equipped us with a strong initial knowledge base to then conduct in-depth face-to-face interviews.

For the second phase, face-to-face interviews were conducted. A wide variety of participants were chosen in order to be as representative as possible of different issues and experiences. Personal and professional introductions were used to gather the research, as well as ‘cold calling’ where we contacted residents in areas we were particularly interested in. We interviewed 27 people in total: 7 residents of streets considered to have a high student population; 7 landlords (from small ‘hobby’ landlords to professional landlords); 2 lettings agents; 8 students (studying at both the main University campus and the St Luke’s campus); a representative from the Student Guild (an organisation that provides independent, impartial advice for students); a representative from Exeter University and a representative from Exeter City Council. All the interviews were semi-structured and in-depth. Detailed questions were tailored appropriately to the individual we were interviewing.

Through using this multi-stakeholder methodological approach, we have been able to develop a picture of the student housing market today, look at the way it is developing and scrutinise the role of the City Council and the University in this development.

‘Studentification’ Darren Smith, professor of geography at Loughborough University, identified the process of “studentification” as a change in the proportion of houses in multiple occupation that occurs when there is a large imbalance between the number of 9 students and the number of permanent residents in an area. In his report [5] he examined the effects of studentification on an area and the challenges brought about by large student numbers. His research in other university cities, including Loughborough and Nottingham, reveal a pattern emerging when an area becomes overpopulated with student houses.

His findings revealed that the housing stock which may have traditionally been owner-occupied was increasingly being adapted and repurposed as houses in multiple occupation; leading to areas becoming progressively ‘studentified’. As this process occurred the areas became less popular to other members of the community, creating streets which were filled solely with students. As a consequence traditional businesses and amenities which supported a cross section of the community (such as schools, nurseries and pubs) began to be lost.


Residents of Exeter commented that there is an imbalance in their neighbourhoods and that it affects their local amenities. For example, residents of the Pennsylvania suburb of Exeter have seen the closure of their local pub during university holiday periods due to its main clientele being students.

The University’s plans to expand in 2006 were supported by the City Council, but on the condition at 75% of the increase in the student population would be accommodated in new purpose-built accommodation, to reduce the impact on residential areas. In the Council’s core strategy document, which was adopted in 2012, it states that the “new purpose built student housing should be located on, or close to, the University Campuses, at sustainable locations at or near to major transport routes, or in the City Centre”. [6]

How has studentification impacted Exeter neighbourhoods?
What happens to a community when there is a proliferation of houses in multiple occupation? The main sources of discontent our interviewees identified were problems with: ·

Refuse – houses in multiple occupation produce more rubbish than a family house. The model of refuse collection in Exeter (bi-weekly collections for landfill) is not adequate for this. There are no door-to-door glass collections. The University is working to resolve some of these problems, for example by paying for extra collections when students leave and providing information detailing collection days. One landlord commented “The change to two weekly collections was almost constructive discrimination against students. Not collecting glass and two weekly collections are two things that make student lives difficult.”

Noise – residents on the main routes to and from campus say noise levels are unacceptably high, particularly in the early hours of the morning after the nightclubs have closed. The University has attempted to combat this issue through the introduction of a student warden system, and employing a Community Liaison Officer who responds to complaints. During ‘Freshers’ Week’ in 2014, Devon and Cornwall Police joined forces with the University and the City Council to run a ‘Neighbours Sleeping’ campaign to raise awareness of noise pollution.


Parking – residents say it can be difficult to find parking spaces during term time due to high concentrations of students in their neighbourhoods.

Degradation of the area – front gardens become untended and untidy and houses are not cared for.

Loss of community spirit – caused by a transient student population.

We examined the effects of ‘studentification’ on one Exeter ward in particular, St James, which has changed dramatically in the last 25 years. According to census data the number of houses in multiple occupation in the ward increased by more than 2,000 to 2,800 in the 10 year period 1991-2001. [7]

Residents in the area have come together to form the Exeter St James Forum and are the first in the country to develop an urban neighbourhood plan [8] which is now seen as a statutory document. Throughout their work on the plan, residents prioritised the need for balance in their community and “to ensure that future development and social changes benefit the people who live and work here” .

The residents of St James that we interviewed were not ‘anti-student’, in fact they felt that the students and the University were vital to Exeter, creating a vibrant society. But as one resident stated “Students are the same as they always were – but there are just more of them. There’s a balance to be struck and I feel it’s gone a bit far in some areas.”

The cost of being a student
Exeter is the third most expensive place in the United Kingdom to be a student, only London and Guildford have higher rents.[9] The students we interviewed agree that rents in Exeter are high compared to other universities.

The University is committed to providing accommodation, on or off campus, for all first year students and this is taken up by the majority of new students who can apply for places at the residential halls of their choice. In recent years the University has developed its housing stock, refurbishing and rebuilding halls and working with outside partners and the City Council to provide more purpose built accommodation off campus.

Support is offered to students by the University, whether pastoral support for those living in halls or through initiatives such as the Community Liaison Officer, a role created in 2008. As well as a point of contact with the community, their role is to develop policies and projects to manage problems and improve relationships.

Traditionally, students have chosen to move out of halls or purpose built student accommodation and rent a house with friends in their second and third years. A spokesperson for the City Council said it was supporting applications for new purpose built student accommodation to relieve the tensions in some areas of the city and wanted to see more second and third year students choosing them. The Council has also introduced an Article 4 Direction, which restricts the number of houses which can be converted to houses in multiple occupation in some areas of the city. [10] The spokesperson said “ The purpose of the Article 4 Direction is to prevent an increase of houses in multiple occupation in residential areas. Although once students have been in halls they want to move in with their friends and rent in the city and it is very difficult to change that mentality.” This was a factor which was supported by the students we interviewed who all said they would expect to live in a shared house after their first year.

An issue identified by both the Students’ Guild and the students we interviewed was the perceived pressure to find a house early in the academic year. Properties are marketed by agents and landlords as early as October, often less than six weeks after the students have started at university. In recent years one lettings agent has seen students sleeping outside their office the night before their housing list was released, so keen were they to get the house of their choice.

The students we spoke to agreed that they felt pressure to make next year’s housing decisions very early; one student at the St Luke’s campus said “Everyone started looking for houses before Christmas, I felt a lot of pressure. There is so much hype about it and everyone seemed to have it sorted before Christmas.”

Evidence from the Guild supports the fact that this pressure forces the groups to choose housemates and form friendships very quickly, often having disastrous results with groups falling out with each other, breaking contracts and having a huge impact on their life in Exeter.

A spokesperson for the Guild said “It can cause real problems and they tend to rush the process, no matter how much information you put out the message still goes out that if you don’t get your house before Christmas you lose the best houses […] they are forming groups with people they have known for a matter of weeks and signing a legal agreement with them […] From October we have a steady stream of students who want to leave their homes, can’t stand their housemates, or worse, are being bullied by their housemates. Information about their contractual obligations in these situations is probably one of our biggest areas of advice.”

The lettings agents we spoke to say they understand this, but respond by saying they have to act for their landlords in a competitive marketplace. Is it a realistic expectation to ask agents and landlords not to market any properties until the January after the first term?

What is the impact of the ‘9k environment’?
Students now pay up to £9,000 a year in university tuition fees. How does this impact on their approach to how much they pay for their rent? The University’s community liaison officer said he believes it makes them more savvy consumers, demanding better value for money. He added “Students paying more for fees are maybe approaching premises from more of a consumer point of view, they are saying, ‘what am I getting for my money, I’m paying a lot for my degree, I want to make sure everything is good.’’

There was a perception among many of our interviewees that Exeter University students were more likely to be from affluent middle class families. “It has shifted a 13 bit, they are still wealthy, perhaps not as much as they were, but there is still a feeling of affluence,” said one landlord.


Figure 3 shows student rents across Exeter. Halls can be catered or self-catered; some of the most popular campus-based units are so oversubscribed the University is receiving up to three applications for each room. Rent for purpose built student accommodation usually includes bills, property maintenance and security. There is even a concierge service available at the Printworks (Victoria Hall).

The Knight Frank 2014 Student Property report revealed that [11] students in Exeter are prepared to pay more than 30% more to live in purpose built student accommodation. In the report Keith White, Managing Director of CRM, (the largest independent student accommodation provider in the UK) said “Increasingly, students are choosing their accommodation for reasons beyond just price. They are demanding clever design that allows social groups to form and bond; such as placing kitchens and lounges at the heart of the design and not despatched to the ends of corridors. Likewise, they are demanding services that create wider social interaction; such as events and private activities, all of which adds to their experience.”

Who chooses to live in purpose built student accommodation and why?
The new purpose built student accommodation blocks offer varying standards of accommodation. All the students we interviewed said the blocks were not a consideration for them due to their cost. There was a common perception amongst the majority of participants that the new high-end developments are proving popular with overseas students; the groups we interviewed felt there were many reasons for this:

Some are marketed towards certain nationalities;

Cultural – many overseas students want an en-suite bathroom, something not readily available in Exeter’s traditional housing stock;

Education agents promote the blocks to their overseas students;

Slick websites and readily available online profiles make it easier to make an informed decision from overseas; and ·

Overseas students have greater financial resources to pay for the higher rent.

Some students find they are excluded from the conventional model of renting a house through a landlord or letting agent, and therefore have little choice but to live in purpose built student accommodation. Those students who do not have a UK credit history often have problems securing a property, and require a guarantor. The Guild says there is evidence of students without guarantors being required to pay a year’s rent in advance.

What is the impact of purpose built student accommodation?
In the last few years the number of beds in the city has dramatically increased due to the new purpose built student accommodation. How can we measure the effect of this increase on the housing market, the community and the job market in the city? In Exeter it is apparent that the impact is only just starting to be felt. We examined the implications for the future if the blocks are built without restriction, and the impact this has on the city.

Raising the standards of accommodation – landlords say they feel compelled to compete with the purpose built student accommodation. This means investing in new kitchens and bathrooms, high quality furnishings and whitegoods. One landlord said “They are setting standards so high, raising expectations and pricing some students out of the market.”

Oversaturation leading to landlords being unable to let properties – the number of landlords we interviewed who had one or two properties said they had struggled to let their houses in the last few years. This became particularly apparent in 2012. Different decisions were taken, some choosing to leave a house empty for a year, others choosing to sell their property, whilst others chose to rent to individual tenants. One landlord who was unable to rent to students chose to let his house to four individual tenants instead. He said this caused a number of problems for him. The time required to manage the property increased dramatically and the single tenants did not take care of the property, causing more problems than the groups of students who had rented from him previously.


Raising rents – as the quality of accommodation rises, so too have rents. The Guild spokesperson said: “Exeter has extremely high rents. The landlords justify the cost by saying that is what the University is charging for its accommodation, so we are going to match our private rents to the same figure, but they don’t have the same sort of benefits for students. Obviously in halls they are not just getting their room and bills, they are getting the pastoral support and other benefits from the University.

Impact on the labour market – the Guild spokesperson said that purpose built student accommodation has a direct effect on Exeter’s labour market “The student package they get from the Government doesn’t cover the rent, so there is pressure on the students to find part time employment. Exeter is only a certain size, and there are only so many jobs available, so that will have an impact on the community.”

Isolate students further from the community – one interviewee suggested that the blocks cause students to become more isolated from their immediate communities.

De-studentification [12]– the “reduction of a student population in a neighbourhood which leads to social, cultural, economic and physical decline” . Rather than areas predominantly filled with student houses becoming more family-orientated, houses in multiple occupation are being left empty or rented out to transient young single people instead, which ultimately does little to improve community cohesion in these areas.

Restricting the number of houses in multiple occupation in Exeter
As part of its vision to protect areas where the residential balance was becoming lost, the City Council introduced the Article 4 Direction in 2011. This placed a restriction on the number of houses in multiple occupation and the Council agreed to resist plans for new proposals for change of use from family homes to new houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in wards where 20% or more of the housing were student properties, to combat the growing imbalance in these areas. This affects around 7,000 homes in the north and east of the city. Proposals to extend the area were the subject of public consultation and were supported in writing by more than 140 households. Their concerns were focused on the imbalance created by too many houses in multiple occupation (housing both students and non-students) [13]: “It can’t come soon enough. I have no issues with the students who live in my neighbourhood, in that they don’t make noise or cause a nuisance. But they are transient. They have no stake or interest in the community. They don’t mix, they only talk to each other. There’s a lot of community spirit in Newtown and the more HMOs you allow, the more that community spirit will be eroded. The result will be social breakdown, with the inevitable increase in crime, vandalism, graffiti and all the other problems that occur in rootless, transient areas.” [Local resident]

I am concerned at the ‘ghettoisation’ which results in areas with a preponderance of student houses with problems arising of noise, litter, refuse bins and unkempt appearance. Where there is the right mix, students appear to take more trouble over the way they behave alongside their neighbours. If the balance tips in favour of HMOs then the whole of the area changes for the worse.” [Local resident]

Residents of St James say the legislation has worked in their area, and there has been a significant halt on the conversion of family homes to houses in multiple occupation. However they also commented that to date, there is little evidence of the affected streets returning to a mixed community.

During the planning process the University of Exeter Students’ Guild raised five points of concern about the Direction: the possibility of rent increases for accommodation in affected areas; addressing transport infrastructure would be a simpler solution to encouraging students to live further from the Campus; disappointment that the Council is not taking the opportunity to explore mandatory accreditation as a city-wide solution; concern about impact on other groups occupying houses in multiple occupation such as young professionals; and how a threshold of 20% students in one area as a desirable maximum had been decided.

There were some unintended negative consequences as a result of the Article 4 Direction. Residents in St James said there was a marked increase in properties being sold and converted to houses in multiple occupation just before it was introduced (this was confirmed in a discussion with the City Council in March 2015). One resident said “Families were realising they wouldn’t be able to sell and changed their houses to student lets and moved to other areas of the city. All of a sudden there was a little peak of houses changing use at that time.” This was confirmed by a landlord who said “Everybody who could turn their properties into a student house rushed it through before it [the Article 4 Direction] came in” . Residents also identified a problem in the streets just outside the defined area seeing a proliferation of houses in multiple occupation.

One resident who objected to the extension of the Article 4 Direction told the council “I would like to state my opposition to such an order, as the benefits system requires single people to be in bedsits or single bedrooms. I feel we need more houses in multiple occupation, not less. The Council’s justification is that many students occupy HMOs. I understand that more student flats are being built in co-operation with the University and the Council should as a policy encourage purpose built student accommodation to prevent HMOs being occupied by students.”

This restriction on developing new houses in multiple occupation creates considerable market pressures. Students are not alone in competing for such properties. Other private renters vying for them include young professionals and single people under 35 who receive Local Housing Allowance. A landlord with a number of houses and a variety of tenants (students, professionals, unemployed people) said “Students aren’t the only people who wish to live in shared housing … the planning requirement is quite strict and applies to three or more occupants, so that could apply to three professionals who wish to house share or flat share. There are therefore less properties available for in those people in the areas covered by the Article 4 Direction.

The Student Guild gives support to students in three main areas; housing, money and academic issues, with most of the housing issues related to the transition from halls to private rental. It organises a housing fair, offers a contract checking service for students and has recently introduced an accreditation scheme. The Guild spokesperson said they would like to see a situation where students were choosing properties owned by accredited landlords. She added “This offers more protection for the students. We don’t have a big problem in terms of standard of accommodation in Exeter and the majority of landlords are good.”

There are currently 50 landlords signed up to an accreditation scheme. The landlords we interviewed who were not part of the scheme said they did not feel joining brought any benefit. One landlord said “ The standards are not high enough, the criteria are so similar to the council’s houses in multiple occupation accreditation they are not bringing any added value.” They added that landlords would be likely to add the cost of joining the scheme on to the tenant’s rent.

The number of students living in Exeter has brought a series of changes that have altered the landscape of student housing in the city. Traditional patterns of streets with a high density student population have been replaced with the proliferation of purpose built student accommodation. The impact of these changes is only now being felt.

There is a limited supply of housing suitable for two main markets – private renters and students who are vying directly for these properties. With students being a more lucrative choice for landlords how is that impacting on other tenants? This is a particularly pertinent issue due to recent changes in benefits for single people under 35 that means they are only able to claim housing benefit for shared accommodation rates.

There is a concern that there will be a tipping point when the market becomes oversaturated with student properties, whilst at the same time students will begin to move towards purpose built student accommodation, leaving swathes of formerly student areas largely empty. Whilst there are no simple solutions, we have identified several key recommendations that have developed as a consequence of this research.

Firstly, we need to increase mobility and offer student accommodation options more widely across the city by improving transport links, introducing planning policies to dis-incentivise property developers and incentivise students to live further away from the university. As part of its framework to support expansion of the University, Exeter City Council “expects the University to significantly improve its commitment to sustainable travel, in particular by funding improved bus services to the campus to provide services throughout the day and into the evening.” [14]

Consideration should be given to the use of a specialised lettings agency that could manage the types of tenants taking on properties in certain streets to regain a balance within the community. This market intervention approach could be used to correct the imbalances that have developed.

An alternative model of accreditation could also be developed. To date, accreditation schemes have not worked and the landlords we interviewed were reluctant to join the current system being promoted by the Guild. Perhaps a model where students rate their property online, along a similar line to ‘Airbnb’ or ‘’, would prove a more efficient way to pass on information.

Consideration should also be given to introducing extra refuse collections, or different models of collection, e.g. large communal bins in appropriate locations, in streets with a high proportion of houses in multiple occupation.

It is clear there are concerns around how the city manages its growing population and the City Council and the University are working together to address this. The evidence we have gathered shows there is also a real need to listen to those directly affected – Exeter’s residents, landlords and students.

Although it remains a complex issue, perhaps it is time policy makers begin to consider ways to find equilibrium in the community and look at how the local and student communities can be encouraged to integrate as a community, rather than be segregated further from each other. As one resident said “This is a three way relationship, the Council the University and the community and if you want to keep a community you have to keep a balance” .



[2] National Housing Federation. 2014. Broken Market, Broken Dreams: Home Truths 2014/15

[3] Ibid

[4] Exeter City Council report to planning member working group 24 August, 2010

[5] Smith, D.P. (2005) Studentification: the gentrification factory?, in Atkinson, R. and Bridge, G. (eds) Gentrification in a global context: the new urban colonialism, Routledge, London, pp.72-89


[7] Smith, D.P., Sage, J. and Balsdon, S. (2014) The geographies of studentification: ‘here, there and everywhere. Geography 99(3): 116-127.


[9] survey 2012

[10] 12


[12] Smith, D.P. (2008) The politics of studentification and ‘(un)balanced’ urban populations: lessons for gentrification and sustainable communities? Urban Studies 45(12): 2541-2564.