Plans for further purpose-built student accommodation in Coventry should be paused amid concern the coronavirus has reduced need, the city’s opposition leader has said.

There has been a push for purpose-built student accommodation in recent years as part of a council policy to free up more private-rented homes for family and non-student use.

It has helped purpose-built student accommodation rise significantly in recent years from 4,100 beds in 2012 to around 15,000 at the end of 2020, councillors were told last year.

But since the pandemic, a number of operators have submitted bids to temporarily change the use of buildings for non-students, citing reduced student demand.

The Prestige Student Living accommodation at 33 Parkside is the latest to submit a bid in January.  Half of its 262 rooms were converted to C1 use – for hotel, guest or boarding house – last October due to “reduced demand from overseas students”, and they have submitted a further bid to extend permission from August 2021 to August next year after admitting “demand from overseas students is likely to continue” next year.

Council planners last year approved the temporary change of use of 123 student rooms at Eden Square, off Stoney Stanton Road, to residential use after applicants cited “uncertainty” in student numbers caused by the coronavirus. A similar bid was also submitted at UNINN Infinity on Parkside but later withdrawn.

Applications for more student accommodation blocks are currently under consideration by the city council, including plans for a new 19-storey apartment block for 423 students on York Street; a 100-bed student block on the former Empire building on Far Gosford Street; and a 281-bed student block on Regent Street.

But Conservative opposition leader Cllr Gary Ridley has called for a “pause” on student blocks to understand Covid’s impact longer-term.

Gary Ridley, Conservative
Gary Ridley, Conservative

He said: “Although we are living through exceptional circumstances, it begs the question have we got a surplus of student accommodation?

“A sensible approach now would be to hit the pause button and undertake a review of student need as part of a full housing-needs assessment.

“Instead of protecting family homes, this failing Labour administration has allowed developers to convert more and more family homes into student accommodation.

“At the same time, they’ve approved more and more purpose-built student developments.”

Coventry City Council did not respond to media enquiries on whether talks had been held over the impact of Covid-19 on student accommodation in the city.

But cabinet member for housing and communities Cllr David Welsh said a review will only be included in the Local Plan review in December 2022 – or before if government housing targets reduce.

He said: “Temporary change of use in this case is specifically limited and is in line with the temporary flexible measures introduced by government in response to the pandemic.

“We recognise that, for now, student numbers in the city have reduced but this is only a temporary situation.

“Any attempts to convert these strictly temporary changes into a permanent position will be strongly resisted.

“There is still demand for student accommodation and purpose-built accommodation is important, particularly with the growth of universities in the city.

“We also know that this purpose built accommodation is, in turn, freeing up housing in the city previously converted to HMOs which is helping us help manage housing need in the city.”

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