One of the few  sectors to achieve meaningful growth during the recent downturn, student accommodation is becoming the key driver behind local re-development  schemes with a dozen and more projects on site or awaiting planning permission.

Head of the Bristol office Tim Davies said: “Converting secondary commercial premises, especially empty offices, was touted as one way of making use of  increasing amounts  of  surplus space which had built up during the downturn”. Government moves to kickstart the economy also saw planning regulations relating to converting redundant commercial premises relaxed.

But with the recovery in full swing we are looking at hundreds of student apartments slated across a dozen and more schemes in Bristol and Bath. “What was regarded as something of a stopgap measure is developing its own momentum and beginning to skew development patterns. This could have a fundamental impact on the city centre scene and transform traditional commercial property function and usage.”

Tim went on:  “While it is encouraging to see the cranes appearing on city skylines in Bath and Bristol as redundant buildings are brought back into the public realm, we are seeing signs the preponderance of new student accommodation is beginning to impact other sectors. This trend has increased demand and could trigger local shortages, especially in areas which don’t retain significant reserves of commercial property.  Businesses which have traditionally operated from secondary accommodation are especially vulnerable and might begin to feel the squeeze as more surplus property is snapped up.”

Work has already started converting a number of high profile buildings in Bristol in Bath and plans have been put forward for more. Student accommodation has been earmarked for redundant offices in the city centre as well as the city’s former ice rink, a police station and derelict old people’s flats.

“Conversion schemes have been put forward for Colston Tower and at Anchor Road in Bristol as well as the landmark Green Park House site in Bath. Developers are even looking at a former air raid shelter in Gloucester Road!” 

He said  up to 50,000 students were expected to be looking for accommodation in Bristol over the next few years with a further 20,000 in Bath.

Tim concluded: “With four top universities within a twenty mile radius the impact on Bristol and Bath is more significant than in many equivalent conurbations. Finding accommodation for so many students will be equivalent to building a whole new town between Bristol and Bath, some ten times bigger than Keynsham and both landlords and tenants need to be fully aware of what is a major game changer.”