De­signer digs for stu­dents

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Urban Living -

Cin­ema rooms, gyms and stylish in­te­ri­ors. Some un­der­grads re­ally have come in from the cold, says Christo­pher Mid­dle­ton

It’s not so long ago that the phrase “stu­dent digs” con­jured up im­ages of squalor. What, peo­ple ar­gued, was the point of giv­ing 19-year-olds some­where nice to live, if all they were go­ing to do was ham­mer nails into the plas­ter­work, and use bits of grubby car­pet to hide the scorch marks on the floor?

But stu­dent hous­ing has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion. To­day’s univer­sity ac­com­mo­da­tion has be­come al­to­gether more top drawer than bot­tom of the pile.

Much of this is due to the fact that to­day’s stu­dent digs are not run by busy bur­sars with bet­ter things to do but are nowa­days built and run by pro­fes­sional prop­erty com­pa­nies, and fi­nanced by in­vestors who get a re­turn of up to 7 per cent for their cash.

This week, the devel­oper Cri­te­rion Cap­i­tal launched a new, lux­ury stu­dent block con­sid­ered to be among the most ex­pen­sive in the world. Al­most im­me­di­ately one of the lav­ish apart­ments in Foun­tain House on Lon­don’s Park Lane was snapped up by a 17-year-old boy for £21,000 a month. The posh digs, with a 24-hour concierge ser­vice, and kitchens fit­ted with Miele ap­pli­ances, have been mar­keted ex­clu­sively to un­der­grad­u­ates by the May­fair es­tate agent Peter Wetherell, in a play to at­tract wealthy over­seas par­ents who want their chil­dren to study in Bri­tain.

New fig­ures from the Gov­ern­ment’s Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics Agency show that there are some 107,000 over­seas stu­dents study­ing in Lon­don: 40,000 of them from con­ti­nen­tal Europe and 67,000 from the rest of the world.

“These stu­dents [from the Mid­dle East, Far East, North Amer­ica and Europe] can af­ford to pay £2,000 a week at least on rent,” says Wetherell.

Foun­tain House, a nine-floor build­ing with views over Hyde Park, is at the very top end of stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion and, of course, non­stu­dents can also rent an apart­ment there (should they dare).

But even ac­com­mo­da­tion deemed more af­ford­able and out­side the cap­i­tal is be­yond stylish.

Step in­side the new, 10-storey Vita Stu­dent build­ing in cen­tral Manch­ester and you’ll be greeted by build­ing man­ager Claire Sher­lock, whose back­ground is in re­tail and cus­tomer ser­vice.

Rather than view­ing each stu­dent through a fil­ter of sus­pi­cion, she greets them all by name. In­stead of re­gard­ing them as po­ten­tial Blu-tac ban­dits and room-wreck­ers, the pol­icy here is to treat them as pay­ing cus­tomers.

Stu­dents liv­ing in this el­e­gant high rise, right in the cen­tre of the city, rent their rooms for 51 weeks of the year, as a hedge against rent rises.

And they don’t pay peanuts. A sin­gle room here costs any­thing from £725 to £1,000 per month, which means that far from be­ing is­sued with a bat­tered mi­crowave and a lim­ited sup­ply of hot wa­ter they get a lot more for their money than their pre­de­ces­sors did.

Walk in the front door at Vita, and you could be in a smart block of pri­vate apart­ments. The floor is par­quet, and there are lots of com­fort­able chairs and so­fas. Each morn­ing from 7am to 10am a large, free break­fast is laid out on the cen­tral counter. There are study rooms that ten­ants can book, laun­dry rooms, a gym, and TV lounges for watch­ing any­thing from football to films.

And that’s be­fore you’ve even set foot in your room. Here you have not just the stan­dard desk, bed and bath­room set-up, but a TV, Wi-Fi, your own fridge, ket­tle and cut­lery, and a daily cleaner whose ef­forts you are in­vited to judge, in the form of marks out of 10.

There are also movie nights, pool tour­na­ments and karaoke con­tests.

The com­pany that pro­vides this ac­com­mo­da­tion, Se­lect Prop­erty Group (which has of­fices in the UK, Canada, Pak­istan and United Arab Emi­rates), runs sim­i­lar oper­a­tions in other Bri­tish stu­dent cities: Liver­pool, Ex­eter, Sheffield, Southamp­ton, and Bristol, with York and Glas­gow to come.

In­stead of ar­riv­ing in Manch­ester and try­ing to find a bed­sit through an ad in the Manch­ester Evening News, science stu­dent Amit Varu, from Bar­ba­dos, has opted to live in the Vita build­ing. And he hasn’t re­gret­ted it. “I chose this place be­cause I wanted to have my own kitchen,” he says. “At the same time, liv­ing here has meant I have been able to make lots of friends.”

But for­get the niceties, it’s big busi­ness. This year alone, some £4.2 bil­lion has been in­vested in new stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Camp­bell Prop­erty is another devel­oper de­liv­er­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for stu­dents. But rather than the mod­ern look of the Vita block, Camp­bell ren­o­vates old build­ings such as the Hosiery Fac­tory in Le­ices­ter, a red-brick Vic­to­rian in­dus­trial site that once mass pro­duced tights. “The thing is I only wish I was still liv­ing some­where that nice now that I have grad­u­ated,” says Michael, a for­mer res­i­dent of a Camp­bell build­ing in Ex­eter.

The Hosiery in Le­ices­ter, above and right; one of the liv­ing rooms in Foun­tain House, left, yours for £9,000 per month

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