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Birmingham Student Housing: Are City Councillors About To Stamp On The Brakes?


Simmering concerns about the volume of purpose-built student accommodation in Birmingham have erupted into a potentially serious showdown.

Proposals from Hines’ Aparto student accommodation brand for 1,187 units in five buildings at a site at Selly Oak, close to Birmingham University, have been knocked back by city councillors amidst doubts about the extent of demand for PBSA.

Councillors deferred discussion until further data could be provided.

Birmingham would not be alone in rethinking PBSA. Manchester, another focus for developers, is pondering a relaxation of its limits on PBSA building in return for higher standards, a potential requirement for up to 35% affordable accommodation, and landlord contributions to the additional neighbourhood costs high-density student housing provides. Now some of the same issues are being raised in Birmingham. 

Hines has already modified the Bristol Road scheme to meet planning officials concerns. Hines has shrunk the blocks from a maximum of 16 storeys to 12, agreed to openable windows, and changed drainage to provide space for more soft landscaping. Even so, councillors were scathing, calling the blocks potential “pandemic prisons” for students, Birmingham Live reported.

Market data submitted in support of the Hines application took a more optimistic view of demand for student housing than the most recent city council analysis, which is nearly 40% lower.

Hines' Aparto student housing in Lancaster

The Hines application data suggested that the area around University of Birmingham has a potential undersupply of more than 13,000 PBSA bed spaces, and pointed out that little of the pipeline supply of PBSA was close to the university and was instead clustered in the city centre.

“The report calculates that the student to bed space ratio for the University of Birmingham stands at 2.2:1 indicating a need to deliver additional accommodation in the area,” councillors were told, along with the assurance that “Planning Policy Officers are therefore content that a need has been demonstrated in this instance”.

However, a report to city councillors in November 2019 took a more conservative view of demand and pointed to the 130% increase in students living with their parents in the 10 years to 2018.

“There is estimated to be 20,826 available bedspaces in purpose built and converted student accommodation in the city. There are a further 5,050 bedspaces under construction and another 1,505 bedspaces with planning permission not yet started. The total supply if all permissions are implemented is estimated to be 27,381 bedspaces,” the November 2019 document said.

The November report calculated “there is an overall deficit of 8,837 PBSA bedspaces in the city. This, however, assumes that all permissions are built out and all students requiring accommodation would want to live in PBSA.”

The UK's PBSA development sector started 2020 in bullish mood amidst projections that demand was outpacing supply by around 30%. Confidence was maintained during the first UK lockdown despite a combined loss of rental income approaching £400M. As the second English lockdown began there were signs that universities and providers may be rethinking their approach amidst signs that different groups' occupancy needs were diverging.

The Hines application will return to a future meeting of the Birmingham planning committee.