Permission for flexible use of 200+ student rooms

We are delighted to have secured a resolution to grant planning permission (subject to a S106 deed of variation) on behalf of our client, an award-winning purpose-built student housing provider.

The permission will allow the flexible use of over 200 existing student rooms in a purpose-built student accommodation block in Cardiff.

In these uncertain times there is a real need for the planning system to allow flexibility so that the market can respond quickly and diversify.

Understanding our client’s goals

Our client came to us faced with a slackening off of student uptake of rooms in one of their purpose-built student accommodation blocks as a result of the worldwide pandemic. Since completion in 2017 the accommodation had been a busy and thriving student living hub.

The original planning permission for the development only allowed use for Student Accommodation (Sui Generis). Rather than see rooms sit empty, our client wanted to respond to the dip in student demand and let the accommodation more widely (as serviced professional accommodation). However, it was important that any permission would enable alternative use without losing the ability to revert back to student use.

How we introduced flexibility

In light of the above, we sought planning permission for the change of use of over 200 rooms within a wing of the wider student village, from student accommodation (sui generis) to dual use for either student accommodation or professional serviced apartments (Class C1).

We successfully put the case to the local planning authority that the self-contained rooms lend themselves well to both student and non student occupation simultaneously.

The “dual use” would allow our client to fill the accommodation with students first and if necessary, let those rooms not taken up by students as professional serviced apartments.

A one year temporary permission was sought given that in the longer term, post pandemic student numbers are expected to return to pre pandemic levels.

During Consideration

During consideration of the application concerns were raised from the economic development team at the council that this alternative use would result in direct competition with existing similar businesses.

We were able to successfully demonstrate that the target audience for the accommodation proposed differs considerably from that offered by more traditional hotel and B&B uses.

We also know from experience that the planning system should not interfere with or prevent competition between operators or investors in land and we underlined this point in our discussions with the planning officer .

The officer agreed that these concerns were not material planning considerations and the application was approved under delegated authority.

As a result, our client can respond quickly to fluctuation in demand and the building can be put to optimal use ensuring both financial viability and the continued vitality and footfall levels in the city centre.

Can we help?

Earlier this year we wrote about the potential challenges to universities/colleges as a result of the pandemic here which gives more detail on the issues for consideration. If you would like to explore flexibility for PBSA or other campus buildings and see how we can help please contact Catherine Hoyte –