...Bucking the trend? ...was the name of the NLA's conference I went to this morning. I've been to a number of NLA conferences but not one of them was as rammed as this one, standing room only for the latecomers. So is student housing bucking the trend, in short yes it is. This is the gist of it:
London is the most popular destination for foreign students, period. Bigger than New York, bigger than Sidney and bigger than all the other UK cities put together. Couple that with the fact that it has the highest density of top ranked universities of any city in the world and you have a destination with considerable pulling power. So it's just a case of build it and they will come, right? Sort of.
Developers of student housing are facing three main challenges (apart from competition from other developers) namely, land, location and expectation.
Land, not only the ever decreasing availability of the stuff but increasingly it's suitability for open market residential. Let me explain. The increase in student housing in some London boroughs particularly the inner ones, particularly Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Islington has led to local authorities putting the squeeze on the development of student housing. Why? Because they want to see more open market housing built. The turn of the screw comes in many forms but increasingly it manifests itself as commuted payments in S106s (in lieu of affordable housing) or just plain outright refusals. So developers not only have to find the land, but that land, for whatever reason has to be unsuitable for open market residential accommodation.
Location - not as straightforward as you may think. The perception of London by most overseas students is about the same as that of people who don't live here, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, West End, Oxford Street etc the very centre in other words. That's their perception and that's where they want to live. Many would consider the likes of Hampstead or Richmond, nice as they are, as very much lesser locations. They're a bit picky in other words, and they can afford to be.
Expectation - here's my imagined tick list of must haves for student accommodation in the not so distant future - central, really central, secure with 24 hour concierge service, in house restaurant, gym, free internet access, laundry service, welfare department, cinema, free pickup from airport, free transport to and from the university, nightclub (too excessive?) etc...etc...you get the drift.
So, can the student resi boom continue to buck the rend? If developers can find the right land, in the right location and continue to meet the students ever increasing levels of expectation, then the answer remains, yes.