UK Property Forums consultant Hugh Blaza balances Oxford’s demand for student accommodation with the city’s longstanding housing problems and the risk to Green Belt. 

Universities are building more accommodation for their students. What effect will that have on the city’s unmet housing need?

As we keep being told, most recently through the publicity surrounding the Local Plans in the county’s districts, Oxford city is full. It cannot deliver its unmet housing need from its available land and premises.

And so incursions into the Green Belt surrounding the city have been approved and enshrined in adopted Local Plans, albeit not without considerable controversy.

After years of resistance the districts have decided to co-operate with the city, if not through the force of edict from central Government, then encouraged to do so by the Growth Deal. Readers will remember that central Government has offered to allocate money for infrastructure improvements in exchange for the district councils’ undertakings to meet the Government’s housing targets.

We’ve talked about how the districts’ residents feel about this previously.

But it was reported last week how the universities and the city council have, for some time, been working together to reduce the pressure on the city’s housing stock.

Not many of us will have known about the caps agreed by Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University on the number of their students in private rented accommodation of 2,500 and 4,000 respectively. Records show that, although the caps have not quite been achieved, the excess numbers have, presumably, been seen as acceptable.

But the total number of rooms required – 6,500 – is still significant; if all the students ‘living out’ share a house comprising six bedrooms, nearly 1,100 houses are needed to accommodate them.

That’s getting on for the number of homes planned for one of the Green Belt areas allocated in South Oxfordshire’s Local Plan.

There’s no doubt the universities have been stepping up. Brookes has many halls of residence available. And many of the Oxford colleges aim to accommodate all their undergraduates and many of their graduates in their own buildings.

Recent examples include University College’s planned new development of land lying between the Woodstock and Banbury roads. And now we learn St Peter’s College is planning to erect a block at the top of New Road in the city centre.

Whether the new rooms will mean a reduction in the number of students needing to find private accommodation is not clear.

Conversely, the predicted – and inevitable – increase in student numbers, occasioned by the universities’ need to generate more revenue for their activities, may soon absorb the additional rooms being provided, in which case the private sector will again have to step into the breach.

One can’t help but think that the pace of growth will outstrip the ability of the universities to accommodate their students.

The pressure on having to sacrifice Green Belt land in order to house everyone wanting to live, work or study in Oxford seems inexorable.

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