PBSA in Glasgow and Edinburgh – a Tale of Two Cities?

17 Oct 23

The Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sector in the UK has remained strong in recent years, despite a challenging economic backdrop. A much-publicised rise in student numbers – coupled with constraints on supply – has resulted in strong returns which are forecast to continue.

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The Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) sector in the UK has remained strong in recent years, despite a challenging economic backdrop. A much-publicised rise in student numbers – coupled with constraints on supply – has resulted in strong returns which are forecast to continue.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have seen a vast increase in the number of students attending higher education. Across Glasgow’s five institutions, that number has risen from 67,780 to 92,430 between the academic year of 2014/15 to 2021/22 (an increase of 36%). In Edinburgh, there is a similar story, with numbers across the four main universities rising from 57,980 to 74,710 (29% increase). Planning for PBSA is therefore of increasing importance going forward.

Within Glasgow, new PBSA development was subject to what was effectively a moratorium between 2019-2021, while the Council consulted various interested parties for their perspectives on student accommodation in the City. Following this, the Council adopted a revised edition of its Supplementary Guidance 10 which provided some certainty for developers by identifying areas where the PBSA were and were not supported. Due to this, a recent boom in PBSA applications has occurred in Glasgow with c. 11 applications having been submitted with more in the pipeline, however, 8 are still awaiting determination. There is a positive story to tell regarding PBSA in Glasgow – particularly within the City Centre where increased levels of student accommodation can support the Council’s ambition to double the population to 40,000 by 2035. The key will be working with the Council to show how PBSA development can help to realise this ambition and facing the challenges of local objections and political opinion.

The City of Edinburgh Council published their guidance on Student Accommodation in 2016. Key considerations include a provision of 50% mainstream residential development where the site’s developable area exceeds 0.25ha, a requirement for a mix of unit types, and restrictions on areas of over-concentration. However, several significant appeal decisions have provided additional clarity on how the Guidance should be applied – including an acceptance of schemes which do not provide a mix of unit types, and do not provide an element of mainstream residential floorspace (all subject to appropriate justification). The City of Edinburgh Council may be required to alter the approach to future PBSA applications considering these appeal decisions. Overall, while student accommodation schemes can be politically challenging in the City there remains plenty of scope to realise such schemes through the planning process.

Iceni Projects are currently working on several high-profile student accommodation proposals across Scotland’s two largest cities – if you have any queries relating to PBSA in Scotland, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Adam McConaghy Associate,Planning
Jack Miller Planner,Planning
Hannah Sally Assistant Planner,Planning