The student housing market in traditional student cities such as Leeds and Manchester has become recently saturated, as the lift on the cap on student numbers, and the influx of foreign investment, has offered more and more opportunities for developers.
Many have turned to smaller cities for potential sites for expansion, but with greater choice comes greater competition. Take York for example - previously, Boulevard offered the only college-style private accommodation site in the city, and so unsurprisingly has been hugely popular, despite a serious fire on site in September 2013.
Now their monopoly is being threatened from all sides - the opening of Student castle on Walmgate, and Foss Studios on Lawrence Street means that there are already a total of 868 new rooms in close proximity. Vita Student also has plans to redevelop St Joseph's Convent on Lawrence Street into a 660-bed student housing development by September 2016; whilst McLaren Property were recently granted permission for a 326-bed complex on Hallfield Road in Layerthorpe.
Yet one has to wonder whether developers are overestimating the demand for these private halls, given that their high-quality facilities come at such a cost. For example, the cheapest ensuite study room with a shared kitchen in the Boulevard costs £130 per week, or £140 per week at Studio Castle. Studio flats range from £163 to £185 per week, and although bills are included, this is significantly more expensive than off-campus private housing, and probably way above budget for most students.
There are also many other reasons why students may prefer living in on-campus accommodation rather than private halls. Firstly, sociability - whilst living in a studio flat might avoid housemate conflicts and guarantee privacy, other students may feel isolated and worry that they are missing out on events and activities run by the college. Many would argue that learning to live with others and socializing with people from different backgrounds is a key part of the university experience, and students are so obsessed with the 'fear of missing out' that it now even has its own acronym - FOMO.
Secondly, there is the issue of location - living on campus is convenient for lectures, societies, sports and other activities. In York the Boulevard is a 10-minute walk from campus and Student Castle is 20 minutes away, which may not seem like much but if you're commuting back and forth a few times a day you could be wasting time and potentially money. On the other hand, this does mean that these private halls are located nearer to the city centre, and so closer for shopping and nights out - which some students may value more than being close to their lecture halls.
Due to these potential disadvantages, private halls will have to pick their student markets very carefully, to maximize occupancy rates. First-year students may be put off by the lack of college spirit in these off-campus sites, and will probably be keener to get involved in the true 'fresher' experience. However, older students may be a more successful target, as second and third year students may want to avoid the pitfalls of the uneven student house market, whilst post-graduate students may be looking for a quieter study environment.
York, like so many other smaller university cities, will be an interesting experiment therefore in making sure that demand actually meets supply, rather than simply supply meeting demand.