Student accommodation included in land supply case flawed

An inspector was not convinced that a local authority in Devon had fairly assessed the contribution that student accommodation had made to the supply of housing.

In opposing a development of 120 houses on the edge of Exeter the council stated that following the publication of the planning practice guidance in March 2014 it had included student accommodation in its overall assessment of housing land supply. It argued that the provision of student accommodation released housing which would otherwise be occupied by students and as a consequence it was appropriate to include all such accommodation within the housing delivery and land supply figures.

The inspector acknowledged the practice guidance but noted the requirement for councils to assess to what extent it had released accommodation to the open market. In Exeter, due to the large increase in students relative to the provision of purpose-built student accommodation, there had not been any reduction in the number of general market dwellings occupied by students. On the contrary, there had been a significant increase. On this basis student accommodation should be excluded from the supply of dwellings. Applying a five per cent buffer, and after examining the ability of sites to deliver new housing, the inspector decided that there was less than four years' supply. Deciding that the scheme would not affect the landscaped setting of the city the inspector allowed the appeal.

In so deciding the inspector also concluded that the council had acted unreasonably in relying on an updated strategic housing land availability assessment which was published shortly before proofs of evidence were exchanged. This adopted a different approach to the assessment of historic and future housing supply including student accommodation. This ran contrary to a statement of common ground in which the council agreed that the previous assessment published in 2013 was the most up to date. In turn, this led the appellant’s witness to provide a supplementary statement and considerable time was spent at the inquiry examining the council’s revised assessment. This amounted to unreasonable behaviour, the inspector held.

Inspector: Lesley Coffey; Inquiry

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