For years large cities such as Leeds and Manchester have had many private student accommodation developments. With these markets now saturated, developers are starting to look towards smaller university cities as potential areas for expansion. York is a prime example of this. Located on Lawrence Street, the Boulevard is currently the only operational college-style private accommodation site in York. Having previously been run by Derwent Students – the management company, as opposed to the university’s Derwent College – the Boulevard is now managed by Fresh Student Living, and has seen its popularity grow this year, despite suffering a serious fire in September 2013.
From September, however, the Boulevard will face new competition in the private accommodation market, with the opening of Student Castle on Walmgate, and Foss Studios, also on Lawrence Street and operated by Fresh Student Living. Between them, these developments will offer 868 rooms.
Vita Student also has plans to redevelop St Joseph’s Convent on Lawrence Street into a 660-bed student housing development by September 2016, and McLaren Property were recently granted permission for a 326-bed complex on Hallfield Road in Layerthorpe, also opening in time for the 2016/17 academic year. Offering brand new, high quality accommodation, these developments will prove attractive to students who are keen to maintain a high standard of living while at university. They also often come with perks, such as Student Castle’s free onsite gym.
However, such facilities come at a cost. The cheapest ensuite study room with a shared kitchen in the Boulevard costs £130 per week (51 week let) or £138pw (44 week let) and £139pw (44 or 51 week let) at Student Castle. Studio flats range from £163 to £185 per week. Bills are all included, which makes budgeting easier. While these prices are in fact broadly comparable to rates for on-campus accommodation of an equivalent standard (£135pw for a Premium Ensuite and £139pw for a Deluxe Ensuite), it is significantly more expensive than off-campus private housing, and so could still be difficult to afford for the vast majority of students.
Moreover, a key point of comparison between private student halls and on campus accommodation is sociability. While living in a studio flat is a guarantee of privacy and avoiding conflict with housemates, there is a strong argument that learning to live with others and mixing with people from different backgrounds is a crucial part of the ‘university experience’. Even in shared flats, this could still be the case at York in particular due to the college system, as freshers who do not live in their college during their first year may miss out on events and activities run by the college.
The issue here is one of location. Living on campus is not only convenient for lectures, but also involvement in societies, sports and other activities. The Boulevard is a ten-minute walk from campus and Student Castle is twenty minutes away, meaning it may become necessary to commute to and from campus multiple times a day, costing time and potentially money. Conversely, this does mean that they are located nearer to the city centre, and therefore are more convenient for shopping, nights out and other events in town.
The increase in private student accommodation companies in York provides students with more choice. Growing competition will potentially incentivise the university to keep prices lower for students. The lack of college spirit in these off-campus sites may make attracting first year students from the University of York more difficult compared to other universities without the college system. However, for second-year, third-year, and postgraduate students looking for a quieter study environment, the appeals of private accommodation are not hard to see. For those willing to shell out more cash in higher rents in order to avoid the pitfalls of the uneven student house market, these private accommodation sites offer a viable alternative to the status quo.