It won't "reverse the need for houses of multiple occupation"
Smart, purpose-built student accommodation will reduce but not reverse the need for houses of multiple occupation in Swansea, planning officers have said.
The council wants to concentrate purpose-built student accommodation, like the new tower block rising on the corner of The Kingsway and Christina Street, in what it describes as the Swansea Central Area.
At the same time, once Swansea’s new local development plan (LDP) is approved, limits on houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) in student-dense places like Uplands and Brynmill can be enforced.
It is all a bit of a balancing act as student and postgraduate numbers at Swansea University and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David continue to grow.
Whether this continues, or for how long, is more of an unknown.
“It is difficult to predict how student numbers will change in the future,” said lead officer Paul Meller in a presentation to a Swansea scrutiny panel.
His report said there were around 21,800 students at the city’s two universities three years ago.
Numbers have been growing by an average of 5.9% a year — a rate which would generate a further 16,875 students by 2025/26.
Around half of Swansea’s students live in private rented accommodation, just under a third live at home, with a fifth in student halls of residence.
Purpose-built schemes with 3,250 bed spaces have planning consent in Swansea, but very few have actually been built.
This type of accommodation tends to be more expensive than HMOs and isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
The report said: “It is likely that this new build programme will assist in meeting a significant proportion of the increased accommodation needs but it is unlikely to significantly reverse the demand for HMOs.”
Councillor Peter Jones said he believed Brexit would reduce demand for student places, and that demand among students from China was falling.
Tom Evans, the council’s lead on strategic planning, said purpose-built student accommodation had “genuinely transformed” parts of Cardiff but that the market was showing a “definite wobble” there.
Councillor Wendy Fitzgerald said: “You have got to admit that Uplands and Brynmill have been adversely affected by student accommodation. They provided family housing for many years, but were taken over.”
She reckoned that growth in student numbers might not continue.
“To me there are hints that things are not as rosy as they were,” she said.
Mr Evans said supplementary planning guidance will be coming forward in Swansea which addresses purpose-built student accommodation and HMOs — specifically dealing with things like parking and amenity standards.
But the real “meat” would come via the LDP, which he said carried statutory weight.
Councillor Mike White said he wanted more assurances about car restrictions for students living at purpose-built student accommodation, while councillor Mary Jones reckoned all city centre development spots were being “gobbled up” by student accommodation.
Cllr Jones questioned whether they would deliver the footfall and vibrancy that some people claimed, given they were likely to be empty during the holidays.
“Are they going to be dead in the summer?” she said.
Swansea's two universities have created thousands of jobs in Swansea and help pump hundreds of millions of pounds into the local economy.
A report before a Swansea scrutiny panel tried to quantify this.
It said research in 2015 suggested that Swansea University alone generated the equivalent of nearly 6,500 full-time jobs, and that the economic impact of the higher education sector in the city was nearly £630 million.
The report said: “The universities are therefore very important components of the local economy and their plans for expansion will reinforce this position.”