Leeds housing developers urged not to exclude poor students as city centre flats spring up
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Local councillors say they don’t want university living spaces to be unaffordable for some.
Brownfield sites across the city centre are being transformed into living quarters for university-goers at a rapid rate, with new planning applications being submitted almost every month after the pandemic.
But councillors have insisted that new university properties must have universal appeal.
The issue was raised by two Labour councillors, as early plans to build new accommodation at Leeds’ Merrion Shopping Centre were publicly aired for the first time on Thursday.
The scheme could see the centre’s disused old office block, Wade House, converted and extended, with a new 35-storey block built alongside it.
No formal planning application has been submitted yet, but if the proposals were to be realised, they would provide living quarters for more than 1,000 students.
Speaking at a plans panel meeting, Councillor Peter Carlill said: “What we tend to be looking at is very high-end, very expensive purpose-built student accommodation, which is obviously going to serve a purpose in terms of getting some students out of those (shared) homes (in the suburbs), but perhaps not the students most impacted by costs.
“To really make a popular and diverse student area out of this we need the full mix of students, not just those that tend to be the wealthiest.”
Representatives of the developers, Town Centre Securities, said they were in “advanced talks” with a student accommodation provider about managing the scheme.
Greg Mitchell said: “It’s not an easy one to answer at the moment because what we’re trying to do at the moment is to establish the principle of student accommodation.
“It’s a very interesting point you make and it’s certainly one we’d take away with us.
“These are the comments we can take on board, take it away and make it part of the design process.
"Headingley and Hyde Park councillor Neil Walshaw said he would give the principle of the scheme a “cautious thumbs-up”.
But he added: “Student mix and affordability will be really important to us.
“There’s a lot of purpose-built student accommodation in that area which is all kind of fishing in the same pond. At some point that model is going to break.
“For a lot of our constituents in Headingley and Hyde Park, the holy grail is (these schemes) capturing second and third-year students to free up family housing.
“If your operator could crack that it’s a huge market.”
The provisional plans could also see the demolition of the Merrion Centre’s abandoned old Odeon cinema, which has been out of action since 1977.
That would then create space for the new 35-storey tower.
The developers are now expected to formalise their plans by submitting an application to the council in the months to come.
After that, they will go back before councillors for further scrutiny.