Headingley prepares to graduate from its student life
It’s known for its student population, but families and young professionals look set to reclaim the streets of Headingley. Sharon Dale reports.
HEADINGLEY has long been the best-known student area in Leeds and the character and vitality of this suburb owes much to the bright young things who make it their home.
But the relationship between the transient student population and long-term residents has been strained for some time.
The buy-to-let bonanza that was nascent in the 1980s is largely to blame.
As mortgages became easier to obtain, both novice and professional landlords cashed in on Headingley’s popularity and the growing student population. Established student areas flourished but soon began to sprawl, and properties in traditional residential areas were bought up and carved up into as many tiny bedrooms as possible.
Letting agent Jonathan Morgan says: “Twenty years ago there were the student areas such as Headingley Mounts and around the cricket ground. But landlords began buying further north in Becketts Park, Far Headingley and St Chad’s.
“Two-bedroom houses were given basement and loft conversions to create six student rooms and what were four-bed family homes were sleeping seven students with no lounge. The quality of some of this stuff is shocking.
“People complained there were too many student houses and there were. The balance was wrong.”
But the situation is changing as students vote with their feet. The poorer quality lets with basic facilities on the outer edge of Headingley are no longer desirable and landlords are struggling to find tenants. Today’s students demand better quality accommodation and there is plenty of it on offer, thanks to purpose-built blocks that have spring up all around the universities.
Proximity is another main motivator. Traffic congestion in Headingley means taking a bus from its outer reaches to the university or into the city centre can take a long time. So students move back to the south of the suburb and into Woodhouse and Hyde Park. Landlords are having to reassess their market and many are looking to appeal to young professionals.
On the back of this trend, Jonathan, well-known for his success at marketing city living in Leeds through his eponymous agency, has just opened a large new lettings office in Headingley.
“We could see a gap market for professional rentals and that’s what we do. We don’t do student lets. A lot of the student houses are now being converted back and let to professionals and we’re advising landlords that while this means a drop in rent, there is less damage and not as much redecorating.”
He believes that when the property market revives, owner occupiers will also buy into the areas that have been blighted by concerns over studentification and shunned in favour of newlyfashionable suburbs like Chapel Allerton.
“People are excited about Chapel Allerton, but Headingley has better amenities and the choice of property is also better. There are some fantastic houses here and it’s a great place to live. In a few years time it will be highly desirable,” he says.
As young professionals move into former student houses, the retail offering looks set to change too.
“There are too many students, but that balance is shifting and as it does and the economy improves, you’ll get more good quality shops and restaurants coming into the area,” says Jonathan.
Those restaurateurs and retailers may well have to put up a fight if they want to trade here. Jonathan battled for four years to turn a derelict house-turneddrugs den across from the dated Arndale into a contemporary office for North Leeds Rentals.
“It took four years to get planning permission and 15 weeks to build. I was amazed. I honestly didn’t think there would be a problem. I grew up here, I love Headingley and we’ve had a little office here for 14 years. I wanted to create a building that was interesting, something of quality that I could be proud of. That was my main motivation, because if it has been purely financial then I would’ve given up.”
The brick-built 1930s house has been transformed into a stunning cedar clad and rendered property with large areas of glazing and a double-height entrance. It is a 21st century statement that cost £500,000.
Yet such was the vitriol after Jonathan got his way that he has had hate mail and, the day before our meeting, a special delivery.
“Someone came in and thrust a lump of rotting wood and said: ‘that’s what your building will look like in 10 years’ time.’
“It’s upsetting but then there is a substantial minority of Headingley residents who don’t like change,” he says. “But like it or not Headingley is changing and I think it will be for the better. It will be a very different place in ten years time.”
JUST THE TICKET: The house is full of character and is perfect for train enthusiasts.
MAKING A STATEMENT: North Leeds Rentals‘s own office is a contemporary conversion that has attracted some opposition.