Glasgow City Council's new planning guidance on the development of student accommodation was adopted by the Council in October last year following Scottish Government approval. Application of that guidance has now been put to the test with the Council resolving to grant permission for a significant city centre scheme - the first to be considered since the new guidance was adopted.

The new guidance forms part of the Council's SG10: Meeting Housing Needs, replacing the previous, much shorter section on student accommodation.

The key themes remain largely unchanged but the new, more detailed guidance includes new requirements for supporting information and analysis (including statements of need) while fleshing out the Council's likely approach to locational criteria and the vexed question of "over-concentration".

The Council's aim of achieving balanced, sustainable, and integrated communities is in itself uncontroversial but, as ever in planning, the assessment of such issues is never straightforward. Recognising that challenge, the new guidance requires applicants to carry out their own analysis of the development locality, identifying:

  • The pattern of density of residential population;
  • The cumulative effect of the development on the proportion of mainstream residential and student accommodation populations;
  • The range of local facilities and mix of uses and
  • Non-student accommodation facilities which the development will bring to the area to facilitate community integration.

Areas with a high-density residential population and a broad range of supporting uses, facilities and services are considered to have a greater capacity to absorb student accommodation successfully. Where harmful community impacts are likely, applications will not be supported.

Aligned to this, the areas of South Partick/Yorkhill and Townhead/Cowcaddens are deemed to have reached capacity, and further applications for new student accommodation (rather than redevelopments) will not be supported.

Aside from questions of capacity, the Council's desire to secure high-quality accommodation remains, with clear statements on amenity and space standards included. New city-wide design criteria are also included with an emphasis on:

  • Community integration – through publicly accessible ground floor uses and open space;
  • Respecting built heritage and character of the area and
  • Adaptability - through flexible floor plates and building design.

The new guidance has been well trailed and the subject of extensive consultation. Developers and their consultants will adapt to respond to the additional requirements placed upon them. The need for significant additional bedspace in Glasgow is clear and set to continue.

However, it is equally important that the Council follows the new guidance, in its assessment of proposals. Where an applicant's supporting analysis clearly demonstrates the capacity of the community to absorb the development in question, elected members should no longer play the "over-concentration" card simply based on community opposition - as was attempted by some of the planning committee, ultimately unsuccessfully, in the recently determined case.

Instead, a forward-looking, evidence-based approach would ensure that the city gets the accommodation it undoubtedly needs, while all sections of the community reap the benefits.

Brodies planning team has a wealth of experience in the student accommodation sector, having been involved in the major projects across Scotland. If you would like to discuss planning for student accommodation or alternative developments further, contact Karen Hamilton.