Mass student exodus could lose Leeds millions of pounds

DECLINE: Headingley, which has seen a drop in student numbers.
DECLINE: Headingley, which has seen a drop in student numbers.
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Businesses in some of Leeds’s most recognised student heartlands are starting to feel the pinch of a mass student exodus.

After more than a decade of growth, the streets of Headingley are the quietest they have been for many years and owners of the suburb’s bars, pubs and shops feel they are witnessing the first aftershocks of the tuition fee rises. A recent study by Unipol Student Homes and the Re’new charity suggested that there are up to 2,500 fewer students in the city as a whole, amounting to at least a £31.5m economic loss to the city this coming year alone.

The study also said there was a migration of students from areas like Headingley into new city centre apartment blocks. The number of inner city-dwelling students has almost doubled to more than 18,500 from 2006 to 2012.

Nicola Fletcher, who has been manager of The Skyrack, in Otley Road, for six years, said: “I can’t speak for anybody else but bar and pub owners do all speak and we are struggling a little bit, but it’s not a simple thing.

“If these tuition fees keep going up like they are, it’s definitely not going to get any better.”

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She said her customers had gone from being made up of 90 per cent students in recent years to a situation where just over half of her clients are now students.

The situation is similar at The Headingley Taps, in North Lane.Siobhan Heaton, assistant manager, said: “We have noticed the difference, especially in term time.”

But bars and pubs aren’t the only businesses to notice that student numbers appear to be dwindling, which has spelled the end for several small businesses in the area.

Former Leeds Metropolitan University student Lydia Sweeting, 26, who is part-owner of Love Rouge Bakery, in Otley Road, Headingley, said: “There are businesses coming and going all the time, no-one seems to last.

“Freshers’ Week came and went and we didn’t realise it had happened.”

Much of the problem has been put down to the rise of city centre student apartment blocks like Opal and Sky Plaza, which are catering to a reduced student housing market.

It is thought that the number of bed spaces needed by Leeds students has declined from 31,500 in 2006 to 23,000 in 2013.

Sam Watterson, managing director of lettings firm Morrison Watts Property, lets out hundreds of properties to both students and young professionals in Leeds’s traditional student heartlands.

The 32-year-old former Leeds Metropolitan University student, who lived in Headingley as a student for six years, said: “There is definitely an over-supply of student housing and when the effects of student numbers hit that will get worse.

“When I was a student Headingley was absolutely thriving.”

He said a lot of landlords with houses in the traditional student areas of Burley, Headingley and Hyde Park are now changing these houses into house shares for professional people to avoid their properties standing empty.

David Alcorn, Leeds Metropolitan University Students’ Union president, said: “Students are far more than a money-maker for the city, but the presence of students here really does have a wide impact.”

He added that the university’s recent move of some of its courses from its Headingley campus down to its city campus had meant that living closer to city campus has “a greater draw”.

Some residents are pleased with the change however, noticing a reduction in traffic and fewer instances of late night noise.

Ash Road Area Residents’ Association member Nilesh Chohan, 36, who has lived in the heart of Headingley for 20 years, said the area was “the quietest we have ever noticed it to be”.

He said: “I think it’s a better place to live, I think it has been good and without a doubt it’s got better.”

But Mr Chohan conceded that “a lot of businesses are going to suffer unfortunately – that’s the downside.”

He added: “That’s a big worry. On North Lane there are a lot of shops there that have changed to charity shops, a lot of pizza shops are fighting for business and have dropped their prices.”

Coun Martin Hamilton (Lib Dem, Headingley) feels there is no need to panic just yet.

He said: “If we saw this pattern over two or three years then clearly we are going to have fewer people in the area, fewer students in Leeds in general and then we start to say what the economic impact of that is.”

He said that Headingley today has began to see a wider range of shops, with fewer letting agents and takeaways and more bakeries and butchers being approved by planners.

Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Businesses across the city have had to adapt to changing market conditions as the economy remains challenging.”

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