A PROPER strategy for student accommodation in Chester must be drawn up urgently for the good of the city, it has been claimed.
Chester has been deluged with developers looking to cash-in on the growing popularity of the University of Chester.
Cestrians are divided on the need for more student accommodation and there has been intense debate over whether students should be housed in the city centre or out of town.
Under the leadership of Professor Tim Wheeler, the university has grown significantly but the vice-chancellor has said he expects student numbers to remain “broadly static” in the immediate future.
But that has not stopped developers bringing forward scheme after scheme, with thousands of new rooms having been built, under construction or in planning stages.
Influential planning watchdog Chester Civic Trust believes the current situation cannot continue and wants Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) and the university to draw up a strategy for student housing.
“We urge the council and the university to be proactive rather than reactive,” said the civic trust in a statement.
“Chester Civic Trust is concerned about the plethora of proposals for student housing when neither the university nor the council anticipate an increase in student numbers.”
Civic trust members have calculated that the student accommodation schemes currently on the table would provide more than 4,500 beds in total.
Last year the university published its development framework which said it was unlikely the institution would see major growth like that between 2002 and 2008.
The framework also said the university would have ongoing dialogue with the council to help the authority when considering student accommodation applications from developers.
But the civic trust claims there has been little evidence of that happening, and also feels the council has not taken the lead on the issue as recommended in the Nevin Leather report the authority commissioned.
A civic trust spokesman said: “Without this, applications can only be considered in isolation which may well result in less than satisfactory outcomes – this is not what Chester needs.
“Both the university and the council must stop their ‘hands-off’ approach to student housing and engage with the problem taking a long-term view.”
The call comes just days before a crunch meeting over Bell Developments' controversial student village.
A special council meeting at Chester Town Hall on Thursday will decide whether planning permission should be granted.
The 2,300-bed scheme would be built on greenbelt land between Blacon and Mollington. An earlier application was thrown out by the strategic planning committee, but committee chair Cllr Myles Hogg was subsequently replaced.
The decision to replace Cllr Hogg and council leader Mike Jones' friendship with the developers led to calls for the full council to determine the application.
Bell Developments claim the village and Sir Steve Redgrave-backed sports institute would bring millions of pounds into the city but opponents argue the scheme is simply not needed.
Council spokesman Ian Callister said today: “The authority does consult regularly with the university over demand levels for student accommodation.
“However, it has no control over the number of independent applications it receives to establish such accommodation in the city.
“These are developer-led and - like any other application – subject to decisions that can only be made within accepted planning policy and guidelines.“
A statement from the university said: “The university has addressed its immediate accommodation needs with a new 200-bed hall of residence on campus and the acquisition of the 160-bed Travelodge at the Fountains’ Roundabout.
“While the university’s facilities and location are among its selling points, its curriculum, academic reputation, student satisfaction and graduate employability record are equally what attract prospective students.”