Mass exodus of students is transforming parts of Leeds - and changing the housing market

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A MASS exodus of students from their traditional Leeds heartlands could help push down property prices - but there are fears it could also send the numbers of empty properties in those areas spiralling upwards.

Housing bosses have launched a major investigation into the impact of the continuing flight of students from areas like Hyde Park, Headingley and Kirkstall into purpose built flats in the city centre.

A report to Leeds City Council’s housing scrutiny panel, an internal watchdog, said the “plethora” of student accommodation blocks in the city had sparked “significant changes”.

“This has led to a situation of transition for some neighbourhoods, and concerns about whether alternative demand for housing is present - in areas where students have been found to be leaving - that can prevent an increase in empty properties,” the report said.

A meeting of the panel was told that in the past, families have been priced out of communities like Headingley, Kirkstall and Hyde Park by greedy landlords who have pushed the market sky high over the years. Landlords had also neglected the maintenance of many properties, confident that the rents would keep rolling in.

“To some extent, the landlords of LS6 are reaping what they sowed,” councillor Peter Gruen, the council’s executive member for housing, told colleagues.

Kirkstall Labour councillor John Illingworth added: “I am more worried that houses will be left vacant. There is a notional idea of income which cannot be achieved.

“We should be vigorously encouraging reducing the house prices and rents, and we should glory in the fact that prices are coming back to a level that is

affordable by families.”

As previously reported in the YEP, research by a council team has found there may be almost 5,000 ‘surplus’ student bed spaces in Leeds because of the exodus of students to large blocks of purpose built flats.

However concerns have also been raised that those bed spaces - often made up of large houses converted into individual bedsits or HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) - could be difficult to return into the family market.

Years of being branded ‘student’ areas - and the often negative associations this brought - has also meant the areas are not attractive draws for many buyers and renters.

The council is now looking at ways of making it easier for landlords to “flip” the use of HMOs and make them suitable for family use.

A major marketing drive is also being launched to positively promote the areas and “counteract” negative perceptions which are “framing views of the area and frustrating demand”.

The report to the panel acknowledged some traditionally studenty areas were “unsuitable for families” and many potential buyers are “limited by high average house prices”.

However in some areas like Far Headingley, there were “signs of the local housing market returning to a fundamentally residential one”.

The meeting was told that despite the concerns, there has been “a significant market shift” and Far Headingley in particular was “getting a new vibrancy to it”.

However other areas were more “problematic”, it was acknowledged.

Leeds currently has a student population of 59,000.

But with tuition fees and other factors impacting application numbers, the city’s universities have previously been reluctant to share their predicted student numbers beyond 2016.

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