Co-living idea could allow ‘anyone’ to rent new student flats in Exeter

New blocks of student flats in Exeter should include accommodation for ‘anyone’, according to the leader of the city council.

The authority has been in talks with developers about its proposals for co-living to create ‘balanced and sustainable communities’.

It would see room space made available for anyone to rent alongside students in new purpose-built accommodation.

These shared living spaces would give students, young professionals, young entrepreneurs, millennials and like-minded people serviced rooms in shared apartments with communal lounges, kitchens and bathrooms.

The idea is based on a successful model that runs in Berlin, Copenhagen and London among other places.

Councillor Phil Bialyk, leader of Exeter City Council, said: “Co-living will allow key workers and anyone else to live alongside students.

“We have a lot of key agencies here in Exeter – including the RD&E, police, ambulance workers and the Met Office; a lot of young professionals who want to move into Exeter and this could be ideal living for them.

“But also older people, like myself or any resident of Exeter who wants to be in the city centre, if that is what they want.”

Cllr Bialyk said the numbers of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOS) have not risen greatly in Exeter in recent years.

This is largely because of the amount of purpose-built student accommodation that has been created, which has meant more houses are staying as family homes.

But he said it was now time to revisit the policy and ensure everyone in the community benefits from purpose-built student accommodation in the city centre.

Cllr Bialyk said: “Exeter is a thriving community and we need to keep it that way. We are very happy to talk to anyone who wants to come and invest in Exeter.

“But it has got to be on the basis that they are giving something back to the residents of Exeter – and we believe that co-living, helping to create balanced and sustainable communities, is just one way.

“At the end of the day, people have a lot of strong views about students and their accommodation, but students will be continuing to come to Exeter.

“The university is  expanding and one of the best in the country and Europe, so we have to work together to maintain that important university that we have here.

“At the same time, we also have to ensure we have balanced and sustainable communities, and that is what we intend to do.

“The students are in many ways our children and learn their life lessons from us and so we want a balanced community.

“The St David’s ward has seen a lot of student accommodation and people have seen their life change in the area.

“It is a city centre ward and we have to have developments that reflect the city centre.”

When plans for a new £17million student flats complex for Walnut Gardens, off St David’s Hill and Hele Road, were discussed last month, Cllr Bialyk said that the lack of co-living provided as part of the scheme was one of the reasons why the committee should have rejected it.

He added: “They need to go back and think again. Co-living is the way to go as what we don’t want is ghettoizing small communities and take them out of the residents.”

The council has already agreed to start the process of removing the ’50 per cent discount’ for student flats developers in a review of the Community Infrastructure Charging Schedule.

It charges a levy of £80 per sq m for residential accommodation, but only £40 per sq m for student accommodation. However, the legal process in changing this may take two years.

Cllr Bialyk said that any co-living developments would be car-free, adding: “We have to make this city carbon-neutral by 2030, and this will be just one step along that long road.”

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