Is Bath bursting at the student seams?

The University of Bath celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2016 (having received its Royal Charter in 1966) and is understandably proud of its achievements and standing when compared with much older established bodies like Oxford and Cambridge.

University of Bath ©UoB

However, its does share one piece of academic datum with Oxford as – when figures for Bath’s other university (The University of Bath Spa) are taken into account  – the city has the highest concentration of full-time Higher Education students  outside of the ‘city of dreaming spires.’

Moreover, unlike Oxford, it does not have the dedicated student residences of a long-established college system, and the multiple Oxford Brookes campus locations are certainly less constrained than either Claverton Down or Newton Park.

According to a report on student accommodation  that members of B&NES Planning, Housing and Economic Development Scrutiny Panel will debate today (January 5th) – the number of multiple student lets as a proportion of Bath’s dwelling stock – is therefore very high. More so than in Oxford!

Bath Spa University © BathSpa University

Understandably both universities – the University of Bath Spa celebrates its 11th birthday as a full-status university this year – are looking to expand.

More students means more money. However, the growth of levels of full-time students also creates more pressure for the local authority in finding accommodation in a city legally tied to providing homes and business premises for its own rate-paying citizens.

The majority of students passing through are transitory. How many will stay on and seek full-time employment to actually contribute – long term – to the local economy.

If you are a student and live in a household where everyone is a full-time student then the household is exempt from paying council tax.

It’s a concern l know that is shared by Bath’s MP Ben Howlett who – after all – was elected by the very ratepayers who want to see a proper provision of jobs and homes for them. Land in Bath is both scarce AND valuable.

crest town houses
Some of the new angular town houses Crest are constructing on the riverside.

According to a Council report: “Data provided by the University of Bath (UoB) in July 2015 in a HESA format shows that it aspires to grow from around 14,000 registered students in 2011/12 to around 19,300 in 2020/21. The forecast growth is very much set to be oriented towards full-time study, which generates the greatest need for further study bedrooms. At the start of the plan period around 79% of students were full-time yet 73.5% of total registered students were judged by the University to be in accommodation need in the city (deductions being made for a number of reasons including all part-time students and full-time students on sandwich courses etc). The baseline ratio is forecast to rise to 77.5% by 2020 (as the share of art time students falls). Therefore, the need is currently for around 10,300-bed spaces and this could rise to around 15,000 (if the aspiration is fully achieved)’.

Planned new student accommodation in Bath.

The aspiration is for 5,300 more students and this would equate to a need for 4,700 more bed spaces by 2020/1.

Bath Spa University is looking to add around 4,500 new students over the same period and a high proportion is likely to be full-time too.

To meet projected demands Bath would need to supply an additional 4,900 bedrooms. According to the report:

‘That is equivalent to a need for:

  •   around 1,225 HMOs to September 2020, or if that is to be avoided
  •   around 11 more city centre type Green Park House developments (461beds in 13,500 m2. i.e. 148,500 sq.m. overall) or ,
  •   around 15 more out-of-centre type Twerton Mill Developments (327 beds on 8,700 m2. i.e. 130,000 m2. overall)
  •   that is an opportunity cost of around 1,700-1950 normal apartments or 60,000 sq m of office space and 900-1,150 apartments, and the affordable housing component which could be secured within that.’

The Scrutiny Panel will be told that while the Council seeks to enable the continued success of its universities and the contribution they make to the city’s identity, profile and employment base, difficult choices are going to have to be made.

It will not be able to provide additional academic residential resources without impacting on its other priorities regarding general housing and employment opportunities.

No one can deny that all these young people – including those attending Bath College – give Bath energy and vitality. They also spend a good deal of money in shops and pubs and places of entertainment and so contribute to the local economy.

Is there is too much of this around Bath. The bags get kicked or pecked to pieces.

However, some would say they don’t pay mortgages or need to find cash to maintain a household.Their waste – if it is lucky enough to be properly bagged – still has to be collected from their doorsteps and the streets swept of night-club-queue detritus and the occasional vomit.

B&NES has to come to a decision and maybe revise its policy regarding the development of new academic space and student accommodation. This might involve asking the universities to do more in providing additional on-campus accommodation.

In the case of Bath Spa couldn’t a mini ‘university town’ have been created on the site of the old Cadbury’s Factory at Keynsham. If Council workers are moved from Bath to help revitalise the town – then why not students? It’s only just down the road!

The Virtual Museum has no answers but only illustrates what the Council must address and invites comments. Read the full report via


1 Comment

  1. I find this slightly disappointing in it’s tone and the idea that you can “kick” students out to Keynsham does not even consider the “want” of students to want to be involved in Bath/University life while encouraging massive car use. A very simple solution can be found to this by enabling Universities to expand accommodation around/on the sites and only allowing an increase in places at 60% of the built capacity. This would release residential housing stock.

    HMO licence pricing could be varied based on whether council tax has been paid at the residence.

    You seem to be praising Oxford for the immense amount of purpose built student accommodation it has but criticising the need for such in Bath. Bath is a graduate factory. Do not forget that.

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