Yet another application has arrived for purpose built student accommodation (PBSA) in Durham City. This time it is on the former Nelson’s Yard site at the end of John Street and is for 60 student beds.
Interestingly this site had a previous planning application granted for a similar development around 8(?) years ago, but it was never progressed. I admit that the site is one of the handful of real eyesores in my Neville’s Cross division, so a good quality development would normally be welcomed there, but please, not another PBSA.
Durham City is crying out for non-student accommodation, especially in the city centre. While it may be a difficult site for families with children, it would work really well for young professionals or retirees being close to the city centre and the main bus/train stations. Surely a development of flats for such as these would be a much better idea both for the local community and to help the year-round sustainability of the City centre.
This application brings the total of new PBSA built, in construction or planned to over 4,400 since 2012 (full details can be seen at my related web page).
Evidence is also accumulating that the demand for these beds is not there.
The Village @ The Viaduct is just ending its second year of occupation, has only been half full over both years and is still advertising vacancies for this autumn.
The Chapel Heights web site today (23 August) shows 72 (36.5%) out of 197 rooms still to let for 2016-17. St Giles Studios (on the former DLI pub site) is advertising vacancies as is Elvet Studios on Green Lane, although in both cases actual numbers are not immediately available.
The reason for this looks clear to me, and it is price. Too many of these new rooms are priced at around £10K a year and the bulk of students are not going to pay that when they can find decent HMO accommodation for half that.
Developers keep putting the argument that these PBSA will force lots of HMOs back into family occupation, but they never back this up with real evidence that it has happened anywhere else. Indeed, there is evidence that it has not happened in other cities (Sheffield City Council housing officials said as much at a recent conference on student accommodation issues held in Durham).
Somebody is going to catch a big financial cold as a result of all these PBSA in Durham City and big loser will be the City itself. The planners could easily have seen this coming but the political leadership at County Hall under its perpetual Labour administrations has been totally absent.