A £30m ACCOMMODATION complex for 500 students could be built in the city centre.
Chester Race Company and a London-based developer are working on the project at the Linenhall car park, opposite the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which backers argue would be a shot in the arm for city centre shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Promoters believe the central location makes it a more attractive and appropriate setting for students than the rival 2,300-bed student village scheme proposed on green belt between Blacon and Mollington.
Talks are ongoing with the University of Chester in a bid to agree a formal arrangement so students can be directed to the halls of residence formerly occupied by stables.
Race Company chief executive Richard Thomas said: “Linenhall is a fantastic city centre site, but we have needed to be patient since the downturn of 2007/8 waiting for the right scheme to emerge.
“This development will deliver much needed student halls right in the heart of the city and mid-way between the university’s campuses at Parkgate Road and the former County Hall.
“In our view, this is where students want to be. They will be within walking distance of all the city centre services and will be spending their money locally. It will be of huge economic benefit to the city and Linenhall will be a great place for students to live while studying in Chester.”
Asked about possible concerns over drunken behaviour, he added: “That’s a pretty prehistoric view of students. If you look at the make-up of the university a lot are mature students.”
As a back-up plan the Race Company has applied to renew planning permission for 144 apartments at the Linenhall site but the scheme has not so far been built because the luxury flats market has collapsed – however, the existing consent lends strength to the new scheme which would be on a similar scale.
Students are seen as guaranteed income because the university’s future is not in doubt.
Neighbours and the Queen’s School have been kept informed on progress, with construction noise and disruption highlighted as a concern although developers say restrictions would be put in place.
The building, which would range in height from six storeys at the inner ring road side to three/four storeys by the Georgian properties, would feature clusters of up to eight en suite bed-sits around shared kitchen, dining and lounge facilities.
There would be a central courtyard and undercroft car parking on the same level as now although it is anticipated car usage would be low. Access is likely to be from the ring road and Stanley Street.
There would be on-site management and every student would sign a code of conduct meaning they could be ejected if found in breach.
A planning application will be submitted early next year for the site, which is designated for housing in the local development plan.
NEWS a 500-bed student complex could be built in the city centre comes amid speculation the University of Chester is negotiating to buy the 160-bed Travelodge by the Fountains roundabout.
In addition, work has started to build 200 study bedrooms at the university’s Parkgate Road campus in time for autumn 2013 and permission has been granted on appeal for 85 student apartments at the former George Street School at Gorse Stacks.
Student village opponents claim the potential to provide almost 1,000 student beds on brownfield sites undermines the need for a 2,300-bed complex in the green belt at Blacon. But its backers say the interest in student accommodation shows the high level of unmet demand.
University Vice Chancellor Professor Tim Wheeler this week refused to comment on whether there was any interest in buying the Travelodge which was put on the market in September.
But he said: “In the last six months, the university has been approached about nine proposals for student residences ranging from 72 to 520 bedrooms, seven of them within half a mile of the university’s campuses. We are aware of two fitness centre proposals and a nightclub targeted at students.”
The university, which has about 16,800 city-based students, says it recruited record numbers of undergraduates at its Chester and Warrington campuses this autumn and continues to see modest increases in postgraduate and international students enrolling.
Andy Scargill, of Friends of the North Chester Greenbelt, said: “The start of building work on the university’s student accommodation block and the granting on appeal of the George Street development are the final nails in the coffin, we believe, of the ill conceived student village at Mollington.
“These two projects are also exactly in line with the recommendations of the council’s own independent report earlier this year. The news that other similar schemes on brownfield sites close to the university campuses are about to be announced is even further evidence that it is time for Bell Developments to give up and let the city move on.”
Student village spokesman Stephen Wundke, for Bell Developments, said: “These numerous possible applications highlight the very urgent need for the student village.
“The developers of these alternative, and as yet not technically approved sites, are all aware of the exceptional demand that we have highlighted, through the reports we have commissioned, for quality accommodation for students.
“We are confident that a number are planned waiting for the outcome of our student village application.
“Cheshire West and Chester Council have already passed a resolution that states that the answer for Chester as a city is to refuse “pepper potting” applications, which these are, to solve the problem of ‘studentification’ so it would be surprising to see these applications supported.
“Our application will be heard on December 19 and we are confident that we have shown not only the exceptional circumstances that require this application to be granted and answered all the technical questions raised but that in doing so we will have provided the city with a much needed £100 million investment, £280m of economic benefit, 1,000 jobs over five years, 120 apprenticeships and, of course, the Sir Steve Redgrave Institute.”
He added: “This project is vital for Chester, not just to solve the student accommodation crisis but as a line in the sand for vital future investment in the city.”