ENGLISH HOUSING

Can Plymouth get the balance right?

Stephen Fuery, Marketing Executive, TCAS Online

22nd July 2016

In these turbulent times, the student housing situation in Plymouth may not appear to be that important. Why should we care? Plymouth is just an average university city in the UK, and actually that is exactly the point. What is happening in Plymouth is playing out up and down the country in different ways and to different degrees but it all impacts the student property market.

Located on the south west coast of England, Plymouth is a decent, if largely un-extraordinary city. The University of Plymouth is a former polytechnic with around 25,000 students, which in a city area of around 250,000 people is a sizeable student population. The city centre has been declining in recent years and so the council has been exploring ways of redeveloping and revitalising the city.

As a backdrop to the issues regarding Plymouth city centre, there have been numerous disputes between developers and local residents about plans to build more specialist student accommodation in the city. These issues aren’t exclusive to Plymouth. High streets and city centres are failing up and down the country in an environment of economic uncertainty, online shopping and unpredictable changes in consumer habits.

Plymouth city council has conducted a major study which suggests turning the city centre into a much more residential space to counter the decline of the retail sector in the city. The study discusses the idea of mixed and multi-purpose developments, which could include residential, retail and leisure facilities, potentially including student accommodation as well. The use of mixed purpose developments has been gaining popularity around the world, with cities from Berlin to Melbourne developing complexes that house retail, leisure and student housing facilities.

“Plymouth city council has conducted a major study which suggests turning the city centre into a much more residential space to counter the decline of the retail sector in the city. ”

The plans make a lot of sense, as students as a demographic enjoy good levels of disposable income and bring vibrancy to the areas they live in. However, Plymouth city council have vowed that should the plans go ahead they will restrict the number of students allowed to live in the city centre and will create designated areas for them to live, so as not to dominate the residential aspect of the plans.

With a demand outstripping supply in the student housing market, the council in Plymouth need to be careful about doing anything that could negatively impact the student property market in their area. They must get the balance right in a way that works for students, the university, local residents and the local economy. Failure to do so could condemn the city centre to economic obscurity, despite the proposed investment.

Plymouth may be an ordinary city facing ordinary problems, but the study commissioned by the council contains ambitious ideas. Done correctly, with the right balance, Plymouth could become a model for university towns and cities up and down the country which are facing similar economic and residential dilemmas.

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