The Chairperson introduced Ms. C. Young, Director of Student Plus, and Mr. E. Deeny, Public Affairs Manager, representing Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), and Ms. A. Castry, Director of Campus Life, and Mr. D. Morrow, Director of Community Engagement, representing Ulster University (UU), to the Committee and they were admitted to the meeting.
The Director of City Development and Regeneration highlighted that Belfast currently had a student population of 45,000 full time students, with the majority of students studying at Queens and Ulster University and the remainder at Stranmillis, St Mary’s and Belfast Metropolitan College.
She advised that the relocation of Ulster University from the Jordanstown Campus to the new Belfast City Centre Campus represented a major regeneration opportunity for the city centre, particularly in the northern side, with and the £364m campus provided 75,000m2 of high-quality learning space for over 15,000 students per annum with a GVA impact of £160m and an overall benefit to the NI economy of £1.4billion (OCED). She reported that Council officers had continued to work with the Ulster University along with various stakeholders to support the successful opening and integration of the new Belfast City Centre Ulster University Campus, and to maximise the longer-term inclusive regeneration impacts and opportunities of this major capital investment programme, with much of this work being co-ordinated through the Community Campus Regeneration Forum (CCRF)
Mr Morrow provided an overview of the importance of students and student accommodation in Belfast and highlighted that students andgraduates werean integralpart in promoting City Centre Living. He outlined how students would help achieve Belfast’s ambition:
· Housing led regeneration was an underpinning principle of ”Belfast - A Signature City”;
· The city had a strong base to build on with 45,000 students and over 7,000 PBSA already;
· Belfast was a young and vibrant city -students currently made up 14% of the population;
· Everyone would benefit from a thriving and prosperous economy. Students want to live in the city centre and bring spend and benefit across multiple areas;
· Students brought diversity to Belfast that was aligned to a welcoming, fair and inclusive society;
· The number of 18-year-olds would grow by 20% in the next five years and the universities were highlighting the need to increase places (by 4,250) just to maintain current opportunities for school leavers;
· As a city, we need to encourage investment to build appropriate housing for both students and graduates and ensure we could encourage our young residents to stay in the city longer; and
· There was already evidence of increased footfall on Royal Avenue by 47%-some of which might be attributed to UU’s new Belfast campus.
Ms. Castry provided context of the current student housing market and pointed out that there was an increase in competition for HMO’s particularlyfrom NIHE, Immigration Services and statutory agenciesand there were increasing accommodation issuesacross the housingsector which required a holistic view and should include the consideration of internationalstudent families and graduateslooking for professionalaccommodation.
Ms. Young provided an overview of the student accommodation in Belfast:
· Belfast currently had a student population of circa 45,000 full time students, the majority from QUB and UU, with the remainder from Stranmillis, St. Mary’s and Belfast Metropolitan College;
· There were 7,000 PBSA rooms in the city–the majority built since 2018 and approximately 5,000 in the city centre;
· Student Accommodation in both Purpose built (PBSA) and private rental sector was currently at capacity and a view of future demand had highlighted the city needed a further 6,000 rooms for students by 2028-30;
· There was a growing demand for PBSA over Private rental sector accommodation and insufficient rooms in planning or being built to address this shortfall; and
· PBSA opened since 2018 had successfully integrated with local communities and brought business and economic opportunities in the area.
Ms. Young described the benefits of Purpose-Built Student Accommodation, in that more and more students were applying to live in PBSA in their first, second and third years as it offered fixed price, high quality accommodation where students could balance study and lifestyle. She advised that PBSA accommodation typically included all bills; utilities, internet, insurance, communal cleaning, 24-hour security, gym membership and reception. Both universities also provided a comprehensive pastoral support and residential programme. She reported that there was a range of accommodation at various price points and contract lengths to suit all student budgets and requests. She highlighted that prices offered by QUB and UU were, on average, 22% lower than other UK university accommodation for an ensuite room.
Ms. Young outlined QUB’s plans to increase its studentaccommodation by 40%from 3,400-to approx. 6,000rooms. She highlighted that Ulster University’s independent reviewon accommodation demandindicated a needfor a minimum of 1,700 beds inBelfast to meetdemand for first-yearguarantee, with additional bedsrequired to meetincreasing demand fromreturning and internationalstudents studying inour new Belfastcampus. It was reported that UU currently had 700 beds under nominations agreements with PBSA adjacent to the Belfast campus, which would increase in 2023-24. UU also provided accommodation for 600 students at Jordanstown Student Village and werecurrently considering long-termoptions in the city that increases student accommodation provisionadjacent to Belfastcampus.
During discussion, the representatives answered a range of questions in relation to the accommodation fees and financial assistance available, data on the number of students using PBSA’s, management of the reduction in students in the Holylands, regulation of PBSA’s, future proofing of accommodation units, planning issues, investment and maintenance of units and potential rent increases. Members also sought clarity on the treatment of rates for PBSA and the representatives provided an outline on current rating policy.
A number of Members stressed the importance of place making and city centre living and the need for mixed tenure accommodation across the city. The representatives highlighted the need to integrate students in the city centre and the continued engagement with stakeholders and colleges to resolve issues, so that students could be part of the broader mix of residents.
The representatives confirmed that they were experiencing increased demand for student managed accommodation and that they felt there were cost savings overall for students. They advised that, if required, further data could be shared with the Committee on demand, and the transition from private rentals in the Holylands to PBSA’s. Ms. Young noted there would always be some students who preferred private rentals and those students who wish to commute. Ms. Castry stated that they wished PBSA’s to be part of a housing solution in North Belfast and they were not intended to displace locals from private rental properties.
In further discussion, the representatives highlighted the planning restrictions on Student Manged Accommodation to student only usage, however, explained that they would be keen to explore a flexible approach to maximise usage in the holiday periods for sporting events and conferences.
The Committee noted the information which had been provided and that, where relevant, the representatives would provide further information on the issues raised.
After discussion, the Chairperson thanked the representatives for their attendance and they retired from the meeting.