Concern at unprecedented growth of student housing

The unprecedented growth of student accommodation in Cork City over the past two years has raised concerns.

Student accomodation nearing completion at Western Road, Cork, where the old Muskerry Service Station was located. Picture: Denis Minihane

With demand for more of the several thousand students expected to enrol annually at Cork’s third-level colleges in the next decade to be accommodated in built-for-purpose housing, developers have responded with a raft of projects.

Permission has been granted for a number of purpose-built student accommodation schemes in what Cork City Council member John Buttimer describes as a corridor from South Main St in the heart of the city to the lower gates of UCC at Western Rd.

Another group of projects have been built, secured planning permission, or await approval either side of the main UCC campus, between The Lough and the Lee Fields at the Carrigrohane Road on the city’s western outskirts.

Nearer to the main Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) campus in the western suburb of Bishopstown, Mr Buttimer sees far less development. One project got permission late last year on a former packaging plant site right next to CIT, just off Melbourne Rd. If it is built, it would provide beds for nearly 350 students.

Cork student apartment boom poses questions for city’s local communities

Cork City is in the middle of a boom in student apartment building, but the location of schemes is causing concern, writes Niall Murray.

Student apartments are being built around Cork City at unprecedented rates in the past two years, but the number and location of projects are causing concern.

With demand for more of the several thousand students expected to enrol annually at Cork’s third-level colleges in the next decade to be accommodated in built-for-purpose housing, developers have responded with a raft of projects.

Construction under way on the student apartments overlooking the south channel of the River Lee. Picture: Larry Cummins

Permission has been granted for a number of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) schemes in what Cork City Council member John Buttimer describes as a corridor from South Main St in the heart of the city to the lower gates of UCC at Western Road.

Another group of projects have been built, secured planning permission, or await approval either side of the main UCC campus, between The Lough and the Lee Fields at the Carrigrohane Road on the city’s western outskirts.

Nearer to the main Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) campus in the western suburb of Bishopstown, Cllr Buttimer sees far less development.

One project got permission late last year on a former packaging plant site right next to CIT, just off Melbourne Road.

If it is built, it would provide beds for nearly 350 students. But as a local councillor, Mr Buttimer considers some land nearer to CIT to be more suitable than sites currently or recently the subject of planning applications for purpose-built student housing.

The two colleges should talk to each other. CIT has available land that would be very appropriate for PBSA, and UCC has finance available to facilitate it.

“If you had sufficient numbers, they could attract private investment into viable transport to link the colleges,” Mr Buttimer said.

The ironic situation is that laws around State borrowing prevent institutes of technology from borrowing for capital purpose, although a 2015 report from the Higher Education Authority on student accommodation recommended this be addressed.

The Department of Education told the Irish Examiner that there is an ongoing examination of potential funding models for the development of PBSA by the Institute of Technology sector.

The universities have much greater freedom to do so, and UCC is one of many which have been availing of cheaper finance from the European Investment Bank to progress projects.

Artist’s impression of the new pedestrian bridge and student apartments, now under construction, planned for a site adjacent to the proposed event centre.

LAST year’s amendments to planning laws to facilitate elements of the Government’s housing strategy allow third-level colleges borrow from the Housing Finance Agency to help finance student accommodation.

From the council’s perspective, much of what John Buttimer considers in need of addressing may be incorporated into amendments to the city development plan.

Cork City Hall officials have been working since late last year to assess current and future supply and demand, and to look at how a more strategic approach to developments of PBSA could be adopted.

Their report earlier this month to the council’s strategic planning committee came before the full council on Monday, April 23.

It does not designate any specific sites or areas of the city as definite locations where PBSA should or should not be provided.

However, if adopted by the council after a public consultation exercise, it could allow for more controlled delivery of accommodation that meets the requirements of a growing student population, but which also takes account of the wider community.

What officials propose is a wording in the Cork City Development Plan 2015-2021, which recognises the local authority’s obligations in support of the National Student Accommodation Strategy which was published by the Government last summer.

The former Coca-Cola plant on the Carrigrohane Road is to be developed as student apartments. Picture: Denis Minihane

On this basis, it sets out that the council would “support the provision of high quality and managed, purpose-built student accommodation, on campus, in areas in close proximity to third-level institutes and in locations within easy access of public transport corridors and cycle routes to third-level institutes”.

While it is not a current policy requirement, for example, any future purpose-built developments would be required to have an agreement with the council around how their facilities would be subject to full-time on-site management.

Such provisions have been set out by companies seeking planning permission in recent years already, many of them from firms with national or international experience in this market.

The proposed new policy might make it harder to provide PBSA outside the immediate area in which colleges are located.

However, these could be argued to include some of the many offshoots of UCC and CIT being provided near the city centre in recent years.

For example, UCC and CIT’s jointly-run school of architecture will move soon from its temporary home in Copley Street near Anglesea Street to a newly-built location off Douglas Street.

CIT’s constituent Crawford College of Art & Design has refurbished the nearby former City Club on Grand Parade to accommodate some of its courses.

A view of the student accommodation development on Western Road on the site of the former filling station.

In addition, also nearby are CIT’s Cork School of Music, and St John’s Central College and Cork College, both run by Cork Education and Training Board, This hub of third-level and further education colleges could encourage private developers to argue a justification for PBSA schemes in that area of the south inner city.

Within the city centre area, one of the largest permitted student accommodation schemes is already under construction at part of the Brewery Quarter development on the old Beamish & Crawford site on South Main St.

The developers BAM began work there last November and will plan to have 413 bed spaces ready for occupation within 18 months, possibly over 450 if a current planning application to add an extra floor succeeds.

This is one of a number of schemes on which building work is already underway, with close to 200 bed spaces due to come on market at the former Muskerry service station near the lower gates of University College Cork by this autumn.

These and other schemes under construction suggest the increased provision of PBSA by next year could be a little more than was anticipated by 2019 in Cork by last year’s Government strategy on the topic.

But with rising demand for student rental accommodation in all forms, including PBSA but also the private rental sector, house-share arrangements and traditional digs, the rising
supply is not likely to keep pace.

The current overall demand is estimated at around 13,000 bed spaces, nearly 3,800 of which were being in PBSA.

The former Coca-Cola site on the Carrigrohane Road has been demolished to make way for a new student apartment development, of which this is an artist’s impression. Picture: Pedersen Focus

AS MORE international students arrive here and as colleges report more Irish students prefer to live in PBSA beyond the more traditional first-year only use of these facilities, demand for those purpose-built units is rising too.

Based on the 2017 National Student Accommodation Strategy, that could increase from nearly 5,500 to almost 6,500 by 2019.

Even with slightly higher-than-projected increases in supply, there will still be a shortfall of around 2,000 bed spaces a year for those students wishing to spend the academic year in purpose-built apartments.

That could remain the case through to 2024, meaning PBSA is far from the silver bullet that some commentators and even policy-makers suggest in relation to freeing up private houses and apartments for the under-pressure housing market.

The experiences of residents living in those areas where the existing private rental accommodation is let out in large proportions to students may make it understandable why some of the PBSA schemes are the subject of large numbers of local objections.

The old Gillan House, Farranlea Road, where 145 student apartments are planned. Picture: Denis Minihane

Between UCC’s main campus and The Lough, plans for a student apartment development on the site of a former joinery business at Denroche’s Cross were the subject of more than 100 submissions to the council.

In one of several appeals against the council’s decision to grant permission, local residents wrote:

The placing of 350 students in a mature residential area of the city with an ageing population is not consistent with the [city development plan’s] strategic vision for high quality and sustainable living communities.

A decision on that application, which was reduced by the developer to 322 bed spaces during local authority planning stages, is due from An Bord Pleanála by May 21.

There are concerns from residents about the impact of another proposed PBSA development in the Farranlea Road area between Model Farm Road and Victoria Cross, not far from either CIT or UCC main campuses.

That scheme of 145 bed spaces was given conditional permission by Cork City Council in January and the outcome of appeals is expected in June.

Aside from the control and regulation of PBSA provision, Cllr Buttimer thinks Cork City Council can play a more useful part in how individual houses or apartments let out to students are policed.

Residents in some communities, particularly those close to UCC, in regular communication with him about rowdy parties, on-street drinking and other anti-social behaviour.

O’Riordan’s Joinery, Bandon Road, Cork. A student apartment development is currently under appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Picture: Denis Minihane

Crucially, he points out, no matter if all the current proposals for PBSA were to be approved and built, there will still be a requirement for students to avail of rooms in such private rented homes.

He feels that enforcement of local authority bye-laws are minimal and inspection levels need to be increased. While officials will point to their limited role in many aspects, Cllr Buittmer says there are areas in which they have responsibilities.

The council has the right to inspect private rented accommodation registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board. But there are also rights to inspect under litter acts, and the HSE also has rights to inspect, he said.

“If we can raise the quality and standard of [of private rented houses], it would help. Because if you do so, there would also be an improvement in general behaviour of tenants and upkeep of their property,” he said.

State of play on bed spaces across city       

Former Muskerry service station, Western Rd: 190 bed spaces

Under construction and due for occupation by September 2018. Through the planning stages, the project was associated with UK student accommodation specialists Ziggurat, but was part of a recent acquisition of several projects by an international joint venture in the same market.

Brewery Quarter, part of Beamish & Crawford site, South Main St: 413 bed spaces

Under construction, and capacity could rise to 455 if a current application for an additional floor is successful. The project is due to be ready for first lettings by September 2019.

It is also part of the recent bundle of projects bought in Ireland by Harrison Street Real Estate Capital and Global Student Accommodation Group, to operate under the Uninest student residences brand.

Copley Street: 126 bed spaces

An extra 126 bed spaces will be provided by Septem ber 2019, through the conversion of part of an existing facility, which has been in use by the CIT-UCC school of architecture. This will result in the provision of a total of 260 bed spaces at this location.

Crow’s Nest site, Victoria Cross, with 250 bed spaces planned.

Former Coca-Cola bottling plant, Carrigrohane Rd: 484 bed spaces

Planning permission is in place since May 2017 for 484 bed spaces at this brownfield site. The site has been cleared, having been the subject of a previous successful application dating back to 2007.

Former O’Mahony Packaging site, Melbourne Rd (off Model Farm Rd): 344 bed spaces

Last November, An Bord Pleanála granted permission for this project, close to CIT, for which an application was lodged with Cork City Council in August 2016.

Crow’s Nest site, Victoria Cross: 250 bed spaces

In one of the first cases in which An Bord Pleanála decided an application on student accommodation under 2017 housing regulations, permission was granted in March.

Although Cork City Council recommended one less floor than UCC applied to build, the board approved the height originally sought. UCC expects it will be September 2020 before this scheme is open to students.

O’Riordan Joinery site, Bandon Rd (Glasheen Rd/Magazine Rd junction): 322 bed spaces

This development is under appeal to An Bord Pleanála. A decision is due by May 21.

The former Kelleher’s Tyres premises, Victoria Cross Road, where a five-storey block for 124 students is proposed. Picture: Denis Minihane

Farranlea Road (between Model Farm Road and Victoria Cross): 145 bed spaces

The former Gillan House warehouse was permitted by Cork City Council in January to be demolished and replaced with a scheme with 145 student bedrooms, but the case was referred to An Bord Pleanála and a decision is expected by June 11.

Former Square Deal store, Washington St West: 228 bed spaces

A block fronting Washington St West, and stretching back to Lynch’s St, is subject of a recent planning appeal. A decision is expected from An Bord Pleanála in August.

Kelleher Tyres site, Victoria Cross Rd: 124 bed spaces

A planning application for this site was submitted to Cork City Council at the end of February.

It proposes the construction of a five-storey apartment block with room for 124 students, but planners have asked for further information and revisions in relation to a number of aspects of the project.


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