Leeds City Council is being urged to investigate ways of bringing more student housing in Headingley back into family use.
Coun Martin Hamilton (Lib Dem, Headingley) believes a property market depressed by the economic downturn presents an opportunity to “redress the balance” in communities long dominated by houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
He said there was evidence that more families were moving in to Headingley and that the nature of the busting suburb was beginning to change.
There are figures to support his case. Research by regeneration charity re’new indicate that while students still constitute about 45 per cent of the central Headingley population, their numbers have fallen by a fifth over the last five years. Nearly 6,000 fewer Leeds students are living in shared houses and the occupation of purpose-built accommodation has doubled to over 12,000.
Coun Hamilton said: “ [Ten years ago] there was a property boom, the universities were expanding and there was no purpose-built accommodation to take the strain.
“Family homes were bought up at inflated prices because landlords knew they could make money.”
Fast forward a decade and the economic downturn is biting, banks are not so keen to lend and an expansion in purpose-built student accommodation has provided an alternative. Planning legislation has also made it more difficult for landlords to convert family housing into HMOs.
Coun Hamilton said: “The climate we are in now provides us with an opportunity to get the empty properties back into use for families, young couples and elderly people. We should look at all the powers we have because now is the time.”
He points to a recent planning permission allowing homes to be built on the site of the former Leeds Girls High School. Rather than provide a number of affordable homes on site, it has been proposed the developer provide cash to be spent elsewhere on bringing empty homes back into family use.
The slow shift from students to families is also helping primary schools in the area.
Coun Hamilton said: “Ten years ago there were not enough pupils but now the schools in my ward are really popular. It’s a clear sign things are changing.”
They are also changing in nearby Hyde Park and not necessarily for the better, according to Sue Buckle, of the South Headingley Community Association.
She said: “We are pleased Headingley is seeing positive changes but more students are moving into Hyde Park and properties are still being converted into student accommodation. More needs to be done to tackle the problems our neighbourhood now faces.”