COMMENT PLANNING & PLACE

The Gorge stands 70% empty nearly six months after opening as mounting council tax liability looms

Council development director claims developer interest demonstrates need for co-living in Exeter but works have yet to start on all other such schemes.

Co-living Exeter local plan Community infrastructure levy

The Gorge co-living block stands 70% empty nearly six months after it opened at the beginning of September last year. According to Exeter City Council figures only 40 of the block’s 133 studios are now occupied, leaving 93 empty.

No council tax has so far been collected for the building as the Valuation Office Agency has yet to confirm the banding for each of the studios. Once confirmed, council tax payments will become due from 7 September 2023, the date the building was completed.

If all 133 studios are charged at Band A, the annual bill for the whole building would currently come to a little less than £200,000, rising to just over £200,000 from April.

Tenants who live on their own in the block would be able to claim a 25% single occupier discount, and any students who live there can claim full exemption from council tax liability, unless they share a studio with another occupant who is not also a student. (The sample tenancy agreement appears to allow more than one person to live in each.)

The council tax liability for empty studios falls on the building’s owners. As they are furnished, the studios are not eligible for an empty property discount.

Empty studio at The Gorge with a plastic wrapper still visible on the mattress Empty studio at The Gorge with plastic wrapper still visible on the mattress

Last month the city council approved two more co-living developments, a 145-unit block in Summerland Street and a 34-unit redevelopment at Exeland House in Tudor Street.

182 of the 423 units planned for the huge hybrid Haven Banks scheme that was approved in December are co-living studios, and the Harlequins shopping centre redevelopment is supposed to provide another 383 co-living studios in Paul Street.

The plans for the Heavitree Road police station and magistrate’s court redevelopment that have just been dismissed at appeal included 352 co-living studios, and another scheme for 101 co-living studios in Victoria Street in the heart of St James is in the pipeline.

None of these schemes, which together would add another 1,197 co-living units to the 133 at The Gorge to supply Exeter with ten times as many as it has now, are under construction.

The Harlequins scheme was the first of its kind in the city. It is more than three years since it was first approved and its developers would not say when works might start when asked in December.

Empty studios at The Gorge with dark windows at night Empty studios at The Gorge with dark windows at night

At the planning committee that approved the Summerland Street and Exeland House plans last month, city council development director Ian Collinson said that there was evidence that demonstrated a need for co-living development in Exeter.

We have been unable to find any such material, either in the new Exeter Local Plan evidence base or elsewhere, and the council’s own Community Infrastructure Levy review last year confirmed that there is no viability evidence for co-living in Exeter.

We asked the council to what Ian Collinson had been referring when he said there was evidence of need. We were told: “There is plenty of interest from developers as evidenced by a spate of planning applications over recent months.”

For those in need of a co-living studio, complete with shower, toilet and galley kitchen, standard rents at The Gorge range from £1,045-£1,360 per month, plus council tax, for studios from 18 to 26.5 square metres in size.

Tenant eligibility criteria include an annual income of at least two and half times the rent. So those wanting to live in the smallest such advertised rooms in the block must earn at least £31,350 each year while an annual income of £40,800 is required to rent the largest.



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