Revealed: Bristol Uni tried to block affordable new halls scheme

Bristol wanted the idea to be ‘removed from the proposal altogether’

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Bristol Uni opposed a plan for new halls to be affordable, documents released to The Bristol Tab show.

As part of a major development plan released in March, Bristol City Council suggested that new student accommodation in the city should have to include low-cost spaces.

But UoB have privately slapped down the idea of forcing some halls to be affordable, and, in their own words, “recommended that [the idea] should be removed from the proposal altogether”.

Bristol's objection in their feedback to the council

The disagreement is linked to the "Bristol Local Plan", Bristol Council's masterplan for deciding what can be built in the city and where it can go.

The Council are currently updating the plan and proposed a range of changes in March for dealing with the growing number of students in the city. The proposals included support for up to 7,500 new rooms to be created across existing and new halls sites.

In line with ideas for other new homes in the city, the Council asked for a portion of the new spaces to be set aside for low-cost renting, to “meet identified need” for cheap flats among some students.

As things stand, the only UoB rooms on offer that meet the council’s new definition of “affordable student housing” are shared rooms in: Woodland Road, St Michael’s, Redland Road, Northwell House, and Hillside Woodside. Even the notoriously budget University Hall would be too expensive for the council’s proposed definition.

In an official response to the early stages of the plan, seen by The Bristol Tab, UoB rejected the idea of an affordability guarantee, objecting to almost every aspect of the proposal.

In a devastating point by point rebuttal, UoB argued that:

– Student housing is exempt from overall affordability requirements

– Affordability can’t be measured because the Council don’t define it

– The “identifiable need” for affordability is also poorly defined

– The Council don’t say how much new student housing should be affordable

But perhaps most worryingly for all UoB students, the objections weren’t just technical. The uni also argued that “there does not appear to be an evidence base of any kind… indicating that affordable student housing is required”.

However, in their response, UoB do say that: “The UOB is committed to ensuring, so as far as practically possible, that new student accommodation provided on their estate is both high quality and affordable.” They also recommend that a “subject to viability” clause is added to any future proposal.

The uni also offer an Accommodation Bursary of £1,040 to students from low-income areas, and state that they do not make a profit from uni-run halls.

In a newer version of the council's draft plan, the policy is still included and affordable student housing is defined. The requirement is a third of halls places priced £4350 or less for a year – based on half of the maximum student loan of £8,700.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “The comments about affordable housing have been taken from a consultation Bristol City Council ran on its Draft Local Plan over a year ago in March 2018. This was just the first iteration of a long process of draft policies which ultimately will be adopted as the new Local Plan by Bristol City Council. The second draft is currently out for consultation and is due to close on 24th May 2019.

“Since the original consultation the University has held constructive meetings with the Council to develop a strategy for student accommodation in the city which enables a sustainable increase in purpose-built student accommodation available at a range of rents.

“This will be achieved by ensuring development comes forward in appropriate locations, avoids harmful impacts on residential areas, preserves the diversity of uses within commercial areas and is balanced with the city’s wider housing requirements.

“It is unlikely that any further purpose-built student accommodation could be built within easy access of the University campus with all rooms offered at an affordable rent due to land prices in the city.

“We appreciate that accommodation is one of the most significant costs that students have to meet, and we are committed to ensuring that University accommodation is available to a full range of budgets and personal requirements.

“To help with this, we offer a number of accommodation bursaries, with £200,000 available overall for the 2019/20 year, in addition to the range of financial packages available to support students from low-income households.”