Students – There Goes the Neighbourhood?

As London undergoes a boom in purpose-built student halls (including the world’s tallest dorm), some boroughs are using planning policy to raise the barricades and protect neighbourhoods from “studentification”.

But has anyone actually checked what the local effect of student accommodation is? New research by Quod dispels some of the myths.

Everyone agrees that students are vital to London – both for the direct income they bring (£2.5 bn from international students alone according to PA Consulting), and the skilled workforce they become. But it seems no-one wants them living next door.

Fears tend to focus on noise and anti-social behaviour, but in reality this is more of a problem with unmanaged houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) than with formal student halls which typically have on-site facilities and 24-hour staffing. In any case many of these new developments are in regeneration areas or town centres, well away from existing residents.

There are fears too that student halls could encourage yet more fast food takeaways, leading to the “kebabification” of high streets. Poorly performing high streets are indeed a problem, especially in a recession, but nowhere in London are they the result of student housing.

To get some real data on how student halls affect an area, Quod has looked at two measures – house prices, and housebuilding – which are proxies for how homeowners and developers regard the attractiveness of an area.

A range of larger student halls were studied, looking at house prices and rates of housebuilding in the surrounding area, in the years before and after the halls opened. These figures were aggregated together for a number of halls and the vertical grey line indicates the year of opening.

Local house prices in the years before and after the opening of student halls


Local rates of housebuilding in the years before and after student halls opened

 Neither study found any evidence to support the idea that student halls “bring down” an area, house prices and housebuilding were undented. Indeed the second chart seems to suggest that there was increased housebuilding in the years after student halls opened – however it is hard to untangle cause and effect here. It may well be that successful new student halls encouraged further investment by other developers in previously overlooked areas, or simply that many student halls are built in areas undergoing transformative regeneration.

Either way, the data suggests that we shouldn’t fear the effects of this new generation of student halls, but instead welcome the spending and other benefits they can bring.

More detail is included in this presentation, given to the NLA on 26 January 2012.

Many thanks to Polly Walker for her work on this study.


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