The "gold rush" by developers to build student accommodation in Cambridge has been condemned by a community fighting plans for hundreds of flats – while the city faces a "chronic shortage" of housing.
There are fresh fears about the recent flood of applications as it emerged some student rooms were being marketed for £13,000 a year – with claims they are destined for use by students at similarly pricey institutions.
Councillors and residents have made their case to a government planning inspector, as developer McLaren appealed against a decision to turn down its plans for 270 student flats in Mill Road.
But the arguments capture a complex debate that has engulfed communities across Cambridge, as developers cash-in on arguably the most lucrative form of development currently available in the city.
This debate includes looming changes to local planning laws, and the expansion of both Anglia Ruskin University and other educational institutions.
Residents at last week's appeal accused Anglia Ruskin of being "extremely disorganised" and "very difficult to pin down" when it comes to their housing policy – prompting questions about who will end up living in these new flats.
"We would suggest there is a gold rush going on of student developers in Cambridge, and that the bigger picture is about the crammers and the language schools," said Colin Wiles, housing campaigner and chairman of the East Mill Road Action Group.
"The needs of Anglia Ruskin are central to this appeal. I think the evidence from the council has shown it's very difficult to pin them down.
"One of the issues that has arisen is Anglia Ruskin has taken on schemes in recent years which they've subsequently passed onto other education institutions such as language schools, or what we call 'crammers', for which there is a huge demand in Cambridge for its status and its brand.
"The bigger picture is that this site will contribute to housing needs in this city. It's an important site, local people want general needs housing and affordable housing on this site.
"They do not want a student housing scheme that will be gated, without any car parking or public open space, and turns its back on the local area."
The Cheddars Lane development was opposed by the community
The raw numbers appear to back the need for more student accommodation.
Figures presented by McLaren at last week's planning hearing say nearly a third of first years at Anglia Ruskin live in the private rented sector in Cambridge.
This compares to an average of 17 per cent nationally, with first years typically housed in purpose-built halls by their university.
The figures also claim Anglia Ruskin will be facing a deficit between students and rooms of more than 8,000 rooms by 2031.
But these figures were contested by the council, Romsey's Cllr Dave Baigent and residents.
Council officer Joanna Gilbert-Wooldridge said the university "has not provided sufficient evidence" of its need, and Cllr Baigent said a third of Anglia Ruskin students lived locally anyway, before they started studying there.
There was also uncertainty about the numbers of Anglia Ruskin students studying part time or doing 'sandwich' courses for only a year, which critics say muddies the figures.
Resident Frank Gawthrop, meanwhile, said hundreds of student rooms had been given up by Anglia Ruskin since the turn of the century at Varsity House.
There is also general uncertainty as to just how much Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge's other education establishments will grow over the next 15 years, or how their housing needs will change.
Steve Bennett, Anglia Ruskin's secretary and clerk, said: "We continue to be supportive of cluster accommodation in locations that are attractive to our students."
He also said it had contractual arrangements for private sector accommodation in the city that restricted their use.
New plans have been submitted for Wests garage in Newmarket Road
Mr Gawthrop went on to highlight the "eye watering" prices of student flats in the city – studio flats at the new Railyard on CB1 cost between £8,200 and £13,200 per year – and the expansion of private institutions such as CATS College.
This caters for students from around the world and charges nearly £30,000 for a single GCSE and A-level course.
"If you've got parents who are prepared to provide that kind of cash, forking out that much for a room is really not surprising," Mr Gawthrop said.
"It demonstrates that in the Cambridge housing market, the Anglia Ruskin students can be completely blown away by the crammers.
"I have questioned the officers at Anglia Ruskin about their housing policy and I have to say they are extremely disorganised.
"I don't know if it's they just don't care about their students or don't have the capacity to plan ahead, but my experience is they really don't have a very clear idea of the way forward."
Anglia Ruskin has not taken up its nomination rights for 342 of the 584 rooms at the Railyard, meaning they are not exclusively for its students.
The rents for Anglia Ruskin's nominated cluster flats cost £6,700 per year.
An insider, though, told the News yesterday that the Railyard was full of university students – although this could be about to change.
A concept picture of the proposed new student development at the Histon Road and Huntingdon Road junction
Cambridge City Council planning chief Cllr Kevin Blencowe has defended looming changes that will see student flats marketed to institutions beyond Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin universities.
The proposals are included in the emerging local plan for the city, as current rules restrict new student developments to the universities.
One insider told us the rules had been put in place to restrict the growth of language schools and so-called 'crammers'.
"We're not lifting the restriction – we're just broadening it out a bit, to include the established sixth-form centres that have been here 10 or 15 years," said Cllr Blencowe.
Student flats are now already being marketed to reflect this change in the pipeline.
Evidence submitted by McLaren also says the city council "was unable to obtain reliable data" for the growth of language schools and other specialist schools.
Cllr Blencowe went on to criticise "a disconnect" between Anglia Ruskin, developers and the council over what is coming forward, with many developments predominantly proposing studio flats rather than cheaper cluster flats, where students share a kitchen.
Cllr Blencowe also warned about the "bigger picture" of a relaxation of rules around university expansion, which has given them the ability to offer more courses to more students than ever.
"In national terms I can understand the desire to provide more courses for more students, because we want to increase the skills base," said Cllr Blencowe.
"But in Cambridge we have a complicated source of pressures which are then impacted – there's a huge demand for housing of every need. The more people that compete for that, the more pressure there is."
The Mill Road site is earmarked for more than 150 homes in the emerging local plan – but a much more modest allocation in the currently adopted one.
And McLaren says this means the city council cannot argue the strategic need for this housing, especially as the city is well on course to meet its 'five-year housing supply' as defined by the Government.
Hundreds of new student flats have been provided at CB1
Developers also frequently argue that providing purpose-built student rooms will free up the private rented accommodation currently occupied by students.
But Cllr Baigent said there was a "chronic shortage" or residential accommodation in Romsey, and the whole city.
"I appreciate the efforts of McLaren to get local buy-in with this proposal," he said.
"I have had a number of meetings with them, and at each they have been left in no doubt about the views of the 7,000 voters of Romsey.
"I have pleaded with them to compromise their proposals to represent the city plan. McLaren, however, remain implacable.
"As a politician I have tried hard to avoid this very situation that we are now – but McLaren have refused to budge."
A flurry of 'windfall sites' – those not allocated for a specific reason in the local plan – have been proposed for student accommodation in recent times.
Two of these at the pre-application are also in Romsey, at the NHS site on Vinery Road and at the former Romsey Labour Club on Mill Road.
The latest figures from Cambridge City Council show 2,309 private homes were exempt from council tax as they were occupied solely by students.
In addition, there were a further 1,243 properties designated as halls of residence and 643 'student disregards' where students were living with non-students.
Allan Brigham, a fellow member of the East Mill Road Action Group, recently quizzed councillors on why the restriction on student accommodation being occupied by university students was being lifted.
"There may be an argument for the planning system to look favourably on the provision of accommodation for students at the two universities, as it does in the existing Local Plan," Mr Brigham said.
"But there is no argument to justify including sixth form crammers who are simply using the 'Cambridge' name to charge large fees.
"The proposed change to the local plan simply widens the market for student flats and pushes up their sale value. It is already being flagged up as an incentive to buyers.
"Many local residents would ask why they are forced to live in Littleport or Huntingdon, and to drive back to Cambridge to work or to see family and friends, while students appear to be entitled to live near their place of work."
Purpose-built student accommodation available to ARU students
Exclusive to ARU
|Peter Taylor House||254|
|University shared houses||90|
Directly let accommodation not solely for use by ARU
Number of student living in the private rented sector
|First-year students||All students|
|ARU Cambridge campus (no.)||1,135||3,230||3,400|
|ARU Cambridge campus (%)||29||34.3||35.8|
|ARU all campuses (%)||25||28.9||30.2|
|UK average (%)||17||29.9||30.4|
An email sent by the university's residential services manager says Anglia Ruskin expects about two thirds of new students to seek university accommodation
The Higher Education Statistics Authority says of Anglia Ruskin's 9,495 students at its Cambridge campus in 2013/14, 29 per cent are likely to live outside Cambridge.
So it is unclear about the future demographics of Anglia Ruskin in terms of a) the number of students who will live outside Cambridge, and b) the number who will rent in the private sector.
Both of these are currently well above the national average for Anglia Ruskin here in Cambridge.
The demand – how much student accommodation is needed?
Cambridge City Council presented these figures to the planning inspector at last week's hearing.
They are based on meeting the University of Cambridge's target of housing 100 per cent of undergraduates and 90 per cent of postgraduates.
It is also based on accommodating the growth of students at Anglia Ruskin – and not dealing with any existing shortfall in student accommodation for ARU.
|2011||Increase 2011 to 2031|
|University of Cambridge|
|Supply of rooms||14,993|
|Demand for rooms||17,614|
|Need for new rooms||3,776|
|Supply of rooms||2,000|
|Need for new rooms||1,429|
However, alternative work submitted by McLaren calls the city council's calculations "incomplete and inaccurate".
It applies the same target of housing 100 per cent of undergraduates and 90 per cent of postgraduates to Anglia Ruskin - resulting in a shortfall of more than 8,000 student beds for ARU by 2031.
|2011||2031||Increase 2011 to 2031|
|University of Cambridge|
|Supply of rooms||14,993||14,993|
|Demand for rooms||17,614||21,620||4,006|
|Need for new rooms||2,621||6,627||4,006|
|Supply of rooms||2,000||2,000|
|Demand for rooms||8,770||10,136||1,366|
|Need for new rooms||6,770||8,136||1,366|
The schemes in the pipeline
Planning permission with potential to serve ARU
Hilltop Day Centre – 30 beds
1 Milton Road – 211 beds
Elizabeth House, Chesterton High Street – 261 beds
73 Humberstone Road – 15 beds
Cambridge Railway, Station Road – 351 beds
Cheddars Lane – 318 beds
TOTAL – 1,186 NEW BEDS
Other planning permissions
Chancellors Court, Greshams Road – 20 beds
Homerton College, Hills Road – 120 beds
Westminster College, Madingley Road – 9 beds
Bells School, Babraham Road – 100 beds
1-8 St Clements Road – 72 beds
North West Cambridge – 2,325 beds
Homerton Business Centre, Purbeck Road – 132 beds
TOTAL – 2,778 BEDS
Other applications awaiting decision
3 Barton Road (to serve Darwin College) – 26 beds
Castle Court – 342 beds
156-160 Chesterton Road – 41 beds
315-349 Mill Road – 270 beds (application rejected but under appeal)
Wests Garage, Newmarket Road – 200 beds (application rejected but under appeal, new developer also preparing fresh plans)
80 Maids Causeway – 16 beds
TOTAL – 895 BEDS
Student units completed April 2011 to April 2015 – 1,810
Number of market houses completed April 2011 to April 2015 – 2,860
"Cambridge has seen significant provision of new student accommodation since 1 April 2011. Between 1 April 2011 and 31 March 2015, 1,810 student units were completed.
"At 1 April 2015, there were a further 356 student units with planning permission but not yet built and 914 student units under construction.
"This provides a total of 3,080 student units built or with planning permission by April 2015.
"Significant development has been completed around the Station Area this year and constitutes 576 student completions.
"Major developments currently under construction include: Elizabeth House (1 High Street, Chesterton), which will provide 261 student units; Homerton Business Centre (Purbeck Road), which is set to provide 132 units; and 1 Milton Road, which will account for 211 units.
"There are also four further substantial student unit developments around the city which will account for 302 student units (all figures are net)."
"Anglia Ruskin University expects 0.5 per cent undergraduate and 2 per cent postgraduate growth per annum, equating to 1,421 additional students (by 2031).
"They have not supplied data on their expectations of housing them in student accommodation, however Anglia Ruskin University generally houses a lower percentage of students in purpose built accommodation.
"It is noted that Anglia Ruskin University has provided a letter in support of the proposed development and has highlighted the need to accommodate first year undergraduates.
"However, Anglia Ruskin University has provided no information on their overall need for student accommodation and how this relates to their aspirations for growth."