ANALYSIS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Council consultants confirm 58% of Exeter's university students live in city's residential housing stock

2021-22 university figures suggest there are now more than 4,500 student HMOs in the city, consistent with ONS findings, with number set to surpass Exeter's council housing provision.

EXETER CITY COUNCIL   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER   HOUSES IN MULTIPLE OCCUPATION   PURPOSE BUILT STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   EXETER CITY LIVING   HOUSING   AFFORDABILITY  

Consultants commissioned by Exeter City Council to review Exeter’s Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) market have confirmed that 58% of Exeter’s university students rely on the city’s residential housing stock for term-time accommodation.

Jones Lang LaSalle, a global property consultant with a specialist student housing team and offices in Exeter, was asked to provide an assessment to support the council’s application to scrap its own affordable housing requirement for its controversial Exeter City Living Clifton Hill sports centre site redevelopment.

The assessment, obtained under freedom of information legislation, confirmed in September last year that the combination of university halls of residence and private sector PBSA was only able to provide residential accommodation for 42% of the university’s Exeter students in 2019-20.

Figures published by the university (and confirmed by HESA) show that there has since been an astonishing 20% rise in Exeter student numbers, an increase of more than 4,500 to 27,276 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) students in the city.

(FTE student numbers combine full-time and part-time students into a single total used for planning educational provision which also provides a reliable approximation of the number who require term-time accommodation.)

The university now has a total of more than 30,000 students at its Exeter and Penryn campuses, of whom 22% are international students from outside the EU, which may partly explain the huge rise in overseas ownership of Exeter property.

The city council told us that a total of 11,488 university halls and private sector PBSA bedspaces had been built by the beginning of last year, enough to provide residential accommodation for 42% of the university’s 2021-22 Exeter students, the same proportion as two years ago.

According to Professor Darren Smith of Loughborough University, who is known for coining the term “studentification” to describe the domination of residential neighbourhoods by student households (and who has twice been commissioned by the council to produce reports on the impact of increasing student numbers in Exeter), an average of 3.5 students share a typical student House in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

This means that there are currently nearly 16,000 students living in more than 4,500 HMOs in Exeter, which could otherwise be used for residential housing by local people.

This is consistent with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) finding that only half of all student addresses are revealed by student council tax exemption data.

Exeter City Council recorded 2,432 such council tax exemptions in the city’s residential housing stock in 2021, which may mean the current number of student HMOs is even higher.

The city council also told us that a pipeline of another 2,500 student bedspaces (of which nearly half will be provided by the Clydesdale, Nash & Birks Grange Village redevelopment alone) will increase the total to nearly 14,000.

But this includes schemes that have not yet received full planning consent and schemes on which development work has not yet begun.

If the remaining schemes are completed by the beginning of next academic year, six months from now, and the university has another year of growth like this one, PBSA will still only provide 42% of the Exeter term-time accommodation needed by just over 30,000 students of whom more than 17,500 will expect to seek accommodation in what will be more than 5,000 HMOs.

In other words another 500 dwellings will be lost from Exeter’s residential housing stock and the number of student HMOs will overtake the number of council houses in the city.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

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