University examines plans to build up to 300 student beds in Waterford

Management has formed a task force to find long-term options out of the student accommodation crisis.
University examines plans to build up to 300 student beds in Waterford

Students at the South East Technological University on the Cork Road, Waterford. Picture: Dan Linehan

South East Technological University is examining plans to develop up to 300 student beds in Waterford as the accommodation crisis continues to worsen in the region.

The university (SETU) formed a task force in recent weeks to examine ways to increase purpose-built student accommodation on its main campus on the Cork Road.

Early talks have looked at potentially building a similar number at the university's Carlow campus, formerly known as the Institute of Technology Carlow.

Fine Gael Senator John Cummins said he has been informed by SETU management that it is considering ways of increasing purpose-built accommodation amid what is considered the most severe accommodation crisis facing third level in the region in a generation.

"They're developing those plans at present from my engagement with them [which would see] approximately 300 student beds on the existing Cork Road campus," Mr Cummins said.

"We need that. We need purpose-built student accommodation to enable our university to grow and also that has a positive impact in terms of freeing up student rental accommodation in estates."

Waterford Crystal factory

Among the other significant longer-term options for student accommodation in Waterford is the conversion of the former Waterford Crystal factory nearby.

Earlier this month, Minister Further and Higher Education Simon Harris confirmed talks are underway between his department and the Department of Public Expenditure for the purchase of the 36-acre site for use by the university.

In the meantime, a region-wide appeal for people to provide digs for this academic year has achieved 457 offers of accommodation across campuses, including in Carlow and Wexford, with 330 beds taken by students so far.

Head of the university's accommodation office in Waterford, Jacqui O'Connor, said use of the Student Pad website was a "stop-gap" measure and that the task force would examine longer-term options, while 426 beds are owned by SETU Waterford at present.

"Student Pad turned out to be a revelation and it has filled a hole in student accommodation and helped in a crisis.

"The next step is how do we look at permanent options, because at the end of the day our students want to be on campus accommodation. They want that student life experience that goes with attending third level."

Accommodation strategy

A Dáil parliamentary question this week by TD Matt Shanahan put forward that a major cause of the current crisis lies in the National Student Accommodation Strategy 2016-2024, noting that "no additional student accommodation" was earmarked for Waterford "over the eight-year life of the plan".

Minister Simon Harris told the Independent TD he has secured approval to allow the State assist with the cost of building student accommodation in return for affordable rents.

 Patrick Curtin, President of the Students Union at the South East Technological University on the Cork Road, Waterford. Picture: Dan Linehan
Patrick Curtin, President of the Students Union at the South East Technological University on the Cork Road, Waterford. Picture: Dan Linehan

Patrick Curtin, president of SETU Waterford's students' union, said the fear is that students "may not last the whole semester commuting" and will drop out.

"The only way to fix this crisis is to build and the government is very slow to act on this."

Meanwhile, a decision to reject student apartments last month has been appealed by the developer to An Bord Pleanála.

The 94-bed project in Kilbarry received dozens of objections from residents and was refused by Waterford City and County Council which ruled it would be an "over-dominating presence" and result in loss of privacy for residents.

The case is due to be decided by late January.

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